Monday, 15 October 2018

Spiritual Disciplines- Fasting

Whenever I talk about the Spiritual Disciplines there is one discipline that people tend not to take very seriously- That’s fasting. The suggestion that people should try fasting is often met with laughter or eye-rolling. That just tells us how affluent our society is. We live with such abundance that the idea of going without food tends to be something that doesn’t seem realistic. Many of us believe it might even be dangerous or unhealthy to not have three meals a day. Most of us have missed meals, but it is rare to go a full day without eating something. We live in an amazingly abundant society, so we have the privilege of scoffing at the idea of going without food.

Richard Foster defines fasting as “the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity”. Usually this is abstaining from food, but sometimes we will talk about abstaining from things like social media, television, or specific foods (many fast from chocolate and wine during Lent). It is especially important to have times of abstinence when we encounter something that is starting to enslave us. … Foster would say that a hunger strike or dieting is not necessarily a spiritual fast because they are not necessarily directed towards spiritual goals. … The discipline of fasting can’t really be understood apart from prayer. They go together- fasting adds a certain kind of energy to prayer. And prayerful repentance is particularly connected to fasting. As are preparation for ministry and when seeking healing.

When we search the Bible regarding fasting it becomes clear that it is has been a spiritual practice of God’s people throughout the Bible- Old and New Testaments. Fasting was a spiritual practice of Moses, King David, Elijah the prophet, Queen Ester, Daniel, Anna the prophetess, and St. Paul- to name a few. Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. And Jesus assumes that his followers will practice the discipline of fasting. In Matthew Ch 6 Jesus doesn’t say “if you fast…” He says, “when you fast…”. The assumption of Jesus is that his followers will include fasting as part of their spiritual practice. … So, fasting has been a constant practice in the life of God’s people. The Early Church practiced fasting, as did many other Christians including: St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards, but many others as well. Fasting has also been practiced outside of Christianity- it is no exaggeration to say that fasting is a spiritual practice of humanity.

The Bible doesn’t explicitly describe how to fast, it assumes that people know how to do it. We also can’t really say that it is a commandment for us to fast, though it is an assumed part of the spirituality of the people of the Bible. …

The Bible seems more concerned with teaching us how to fast rightly, rather than convincing us to do it. At numerous points the Scriptures ask people to question their motives in fasting- Are we doing it to connect with God, or is it a show to impress others with how spiritual we are? Some of the prophets do this, and Jesus teaches about this in Matthew Ch 6. Jesus questions our motives, but he still assumes that we are going to practice fasting. Richard Foster also points out that in Jesus’ teachings “there is an almost unconscious assumption that giving, praying, and fasting are all part of Christian devotion. We have no more reason to exclude fasting from his teaching than we do giving or praying. … Certainly we have as much, if not more, evidence from the Bible for fasting as we have for giving” (Celebration of Discipline, p52, 54).

There are at least two opposing fallacies when it comes to practicing fasting (and most of the Spiritual Disciplines). One, is to turn the practice into a legalism where you have to participate in fasting in order to be saved and to be acceptance by God. And the other extreme is to reject it completely because it is seen as too extreme, or as a part of a bygone era. Fasting is a part of the wisdom of living a spiritual life. The Bible and Christian history treat fasting with seriousness and that should make us investigate it seriously.

Fasting has been an assumed reality for the majority of Christian history, but the question remains- “why fast”? In our culture fasting might seem particularly strange because we are taught to indulge our desires and appetites. To resist a natural desire is considered unhealthy. We have come to believe that if we only had all of our desires fulfilled, that we would finally be happy. (The people I meet who give that kind of control to their desires are not happy people.) We live in a culture of indulgence. But, we don’t have to serve our appetites. We don’t have to be enslaved by our desires. When Jesus was fasting in the wilderness, he was tempted to turn stones into bread to feed his hunger. He responded by saying “one does not live by bread alone”. Jesus adds that we live, rather, “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is God who ultimately sustains us. It is God’s word that keeps us in existence at every moment. If God were to stop speaking us into existence, we would no longer exist. By fasting we express that our true hunger, our true need, is for God.

In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. The demon Screwtape is advising a lesser demon, Wormwood, on the art of leading a human soul astray. At one point, on the topic of prayer, Screwtape advises,

 “At the very least, [humans] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls” (p16).
 Our bodies and our spirits are not independent of each other. Fasting uses our bodies to create energy for spiritual work.

So, what happens when we fast? There has been some recent interest in the area of fasting on the part of health researchers. 

 Jason Fung, a medical doctor, became interested in fasting because of his work with people living with type 2 diabetes (see The Complete Guide to Fasting by Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore). Fung became interested in fasting’s ability to control insulin and lower glucose levels in his diabetic patients. According to Fung, when we eat food it increases the insulin in our body. This causes our liver to store sugar in the liver and produce fat. When we fast, our insulin decreases, and we burn stored sugar and fat. While researching fasting Fung discovered it had a number of additional health benefits. Studies have shown that fasting lowers blood pressure, decreases risk of cancer, and increases growth hormone that helps maintain and grow muscle. Fasting has been shown to boost brainpower, slow the effects of aging, improve heart health, improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood cholesterol, decrease inflammation, and may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Fung also mentions that many ancient cultures have used fasting as a medical treatment as well as a spiritual practice.

Human beings are made for periods of feast and famine. Throughout history we have experienced times of abundance and times of scarcity. Human beings haven’t always had access to three balanced meals per day, so it makes sense that our bodies have the ability to adapt to a lack of food by increasing our energy and mental sharpness, so that we can be better equipped to find food. There are days when we get three buffalo and there are days when no buffalo to be seen.

It is helpful to know some of the health benefits of fasting to help battle against some of the myths about fasting being crazy or dangerous. But, our primary concern here isn’t the health benefits of fasting. We are thinking about fasting for spiritual purposes. When we are fasting we realize how much time we spend preparing or eating food. That time can be used for prayer and study. When we get used to fasting we also notice there is a certain kind of calm energy that fills our minds and hearts. We gain a new appreciation for how little food we actually need. We gain a greater awareness of what we eat, and we reawaken a gratitude for the food we eat. We also become aware of how often we eat out of habit rather than out of need. I remember fasting one day and I sat down and grabbed a handful of nuts out of the bowl and put them in my mouth. I swallowed them by the time I remembered I was supposed to be fasting. That eating was not even on a conscious level- it was automatic. …

Dallas Willard has said that fasting teaches us to be “sweet and kind when we don’t get what we want”. When we first start fasting we can become quite irritable and it can be tempting to be short with the people around us. Fasting can help us to treat people kindly even when we are feeling internally irritated. … There are many other benefits.

So how do you fast? There are lots of kinds of fasts, but what I would suggest is eating no food (I know, duh). I still drink black coffee, black tea (no cream or sugar), or water. You might be tempted to nibble on something small, but that actually makes the fast harder because it sort of teases your body rather than allowing it to jump into fasting mode. When you first start you might feel a headache at some point. If you do, I usually feel free to take a Tylenol. I sometimes fast for up to 4 days. If you are going to do that it is easier to be away from home like at a retreat centre. At home I have fasted for longer period of 2 months eating one meal per day. And there are many other ways to fast.

There are some people who probably shouldn’t fast or who should be very careful about fasting- People who are diabetics, expectant mothers, children, people with heart problems, people with eating disorders, and anyone who isn’t generally in good health, should either not fast or be very careful about fasting. Do your homework. 

Fasting is about putting God first. It reveals what is enslaving us, but as we cut those ties, we also learn to “feast on God” (as Foster puts it). Ultimately, the only way we will know why we should fast is to experience it. Once we try it and we feel God using it to transform us we will realize that fasting is a gift, and God wants to use it to bless us.

As Jesus fasted in the wilderness he learned where his priorities were to be. He was to be faithful to his Father. The Devil tempted Jesus with many good things, but Jesus knew that they were not the best things. We too are tempted by many good things, but they are not the best things. Fasting can help us make more room for God and God will faithfully use it to bring us the freedom He wants for us. AMEN

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Mental Health and my realization

I know I usually just post sermons, but I have been reflecting on a realization that I had about a year ago.

Like most people, I have put in quite a lot of effort attempting to solve my problems- especially my mental and spiritual problems. The way I have often gone about doing this was analyzing my emotional issues and my sins. I would journal about my "issues". I would go as deep as I possibly could. I would turn over every single stone and scrape the green slime I found underneath into a test tube, which I would run through a centrifuge and then put under a microscope.

There were many benefits to doing this. I learned a lot about myself. I learned the beginning glimmers of thought that would turn into sin if left unchecked. I learned what traumas from my past were still effecting me, and many many other things. I learned a lot.

But there was a downside. I became so focused on sin and my mental state that I went down a deep dark hole and it felt like there was no bottom. Eventually, I think it led me into depression.

Through some of my training in preparation for being a priest I was taught to look for the pain because the meaning was usually where the pain was. As a hospital chaplain the joke was that you knew you did your job if the patient was crying. It was funny because there was a little truth in it. We were taught to look for the edge of the wallpaper and start pealing it back. I started to assume that a smile was really just a mask for pain. The smile wasn't real. I couldn't do any good work with a smile, but tears I could work with. The real spiritual growth happens through tears. ... I assumed that was true for myself and for others for a long time.

Now, I'm not saying tears are bad, and I'm not suggesting we all walk around with fake smiles on our faces. Be real, or at least find people you can be real with. What I am saying is that I fell into a trap. I came to believe that sadness and pain were real and happiness was not real. Happiness was a mask. It was an illusion. There was no depth or meaning in joy.

The theological reality, however, is that joy was first and is more foundational than sadness. Joy will be eternal in God's kingdom and sadness will have an end. Joy isn't a mask- joy is at least as real, or maybe more real, than sadness.

I had come to believe that I could reach a state of psychological and spiritual wholeness through dealing with all my problems. It's like I had a box full of strings with knots in them and my job was to sit and go through the box and untie the knots. Once all the knots were untied then I would finally be whole and free and happy. But the box never seemed to ever get empty. I got good at looking at knots. I got good at finding knots- sometimes I found knots where there were none.

My realization was that I was not going to find joy and wholeness by dealing with my pain. I came to believe that I had to find a way to focus on the beauty and joy that is more foundational to God's creation. I don't ignore my pain, but I no longer see it as more real than joy. When I realized this I felt like I walked out from under a dark cloud. The depression that had lurked at the edges of my mind for so long (see dysthymia) seemed to dissipate.

I'm not saying this is true for anyone but me. I know there are people who deal with incredibly debilitating depression and mental illness. I'm not saying that I have the cure for depression for all human beings. I'm just saying I feel like I found my way out and perhaps there is someone out there who will read this and that will be their way out too.


Spiritual Disciplines- Celebration

Today we will be looking at the Spiritual Discipline of Celebration, which is appropriate for Thanksgiving weekend. As a Christian discipline, Celebration creates the context for receiving the grace of joy that comes to us as a result of our faith and confidence in God.

It is sad that Christians are not often thought of as joyous people. And sometimes it’s a true accusation that some Christians aren’t very joyous. 
We can sometimes take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes in our desire to lead pure lives we run the risk of noticing every act that falls bellow the standard. We notice it in ourselves and we are plagued by guilt. Or we notice it in society and we are plagued by judgment. ... Sometimes we are so focused on issues of justice or the suffering of others, at home or abroad, that we feel like we don’t have any right to celebrate. How dare we? Sometimes in our teachings we can become obsessed with a sin-focus Gospel. We become all about not sinning, and turning to Christ to forgive us for our sins. These are important things, but they are not the only things. Surely there is a problem if our focus on sin drowns out the goodness and beauty of God. Or, sometimes we have seen less than wholesome examples of celebration and we worry that we will be drawn into drunkenness, lust, and all kinds of other temptations as a result of celebrating.  All of this means that, unfortunately, Christians are not always known as joyous people. 

It shouldn’t be this way though. St. Augustine taught that 

“the Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot!”.
 In the Old Testament, the people are commanded to gather together to celebrate certain feasts. And these weren’t two hour dinner parties, these were week long massive parties. (see here and here) … In John 15 Jesus said, 
“These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
 Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunk (Luke 7:34). His first miracle in the gospel of John was turning water into wine so that a wedding party could continue on (John 2). Paul says that evidence of God’s spirit dwelling in you is a character marked by joy (see the Fruit of the Spirit- Gal 5:22). The Eastern Orthodox Theologian Alexander Schmemann said, 
“… from its very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of Joy… all-embracing joy”. 
“Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy”.
  From the beginning Christians were living a life where joy was more real than any suffering they were enduring. THink about the martyrs that faced their executions with courage. They could do that because they knew that the lion in front of them was temporary but the joy God has for them is eternal (E.G. Perpetua here, and Rom 8:18).  Suffering is temporary to the Christian. Joy is eternal.

Even though Joy and celebration are deeply embedded in our Scriptures, Christians aren’t always known for celebration, but, to be fair, the truth is that a lot of modern western society has forgotten how to celebrate. Writing in 1969 the theologian Harvey Cox said that modern people have been pressed 

“so hard toward useful work and rational calculation [they have] all but forgotten the joy of ecstatic celebration…”.
 We might have an efficient society, but we have a tendency to value work above all, and without celebration and times of joy our work can lose all meaning and motivation. We live in a society filled with anxiety and this is the enemy of celebration (Phil 4:6,7, Matt 6:25). 

According to Richard Foster, and many other Christian teachers, only one thing produces genuine joy- that is obedience. A life lived open to God, especially when dealing with life’s difficulties, leads to the possibility that misery can be transformed. God doesn’t just want to transform our miseries though, God wants to transform and sanctify our ordinary lives. As we offer our daily lives to God in obedience, God will use our lives to produce profound joy. In fact, Foster says that “Joy is the end result of the Spiritual Disciplines’ functioning in our lives”.

So how do we practice Celebration as a spiritual discipline? Perhaps we can follow St. Paul’s advice when he calls us to choose to think certain thoughts. He tells us to set our minds on what is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, and gracious (Phil 4:8). These things point to the goodness of creation. As we turn to God in thanksgiving for the goodness of creation we shape our minds and become who human beings were meant to be. The theologian Alexander Schmemann said, 

“When man stands before the throne of God when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. … Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven.”
 The word “Eucharisto” means “thanks” in Greek. If we cultivate a thankful spirit by focusing on the goodness all around us, joy will be a result.

This has even been shown by those researching in the field of Positive Psychology. (Positive Psychology focuses on having a healthy mind, rather than on just dealing with psychological problems.) They have 

“shown that people who are habitually grateful are happier than those who are habitually ungrateful; they are less depressed, more satisfied with their lives, have more self-acceptance and have a greater sense of purpose in life. They are also more generous.” (See Rupert Sheldrakes, “Science and Spiritual Practices”, chapter 2). 
So, a big part of celebration is focusing on gratitude for all that God has given. If you find it hard to find something to be thankful for try holding your breath for a minute or two and then thank God for oxygen and working lungs. You might want to make it a daily or weekly practice to "count your blessings". You can use a journal, or just do it in your mind, but list things you are grateful for. They don’t have to be big and profound. They can be small and simple- like the smell of newly mowed grass, or birds at the bird feeder. (see the Book of Awesome)

 Saying grace before meals, even if short, helps us be thankful for what God has provided.

Most of us have become uncomfortable with singing, and dancing, but all over the world these are the natural ways of celebrating. Most of us might have to rediscover these. These come natural to children, maybe they can teach us. Put on some music and dance by yourself. Gather around a piano or guitar and sing. Dare to learn a few folk dances, or some silly games.

Enjoy the art of clean comedy. Laugh, poke fun at yourself. Enjoy good comedy that doesn’t require crassness to be funny. (see reverend fun)

Image result for the best reverend fun cartoons

Image result for the best reverend fun cartoons

Image result for best reverendfun

Image result for best reverendfun

Enjoy the fruits of creativity- your own or someone else’s. Enjoy fantasy, imagination- art, music, story, and drama. Watch movies or go to plays. Read books out loud together. 

Find ways to celebrate with your family, friends, and community. Find reasons to gather like, birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, a new job, or reaching a goal. (We have friends who had people over nearly every Sunday. It was a potluck, so everyone brought something and they would add card tables to make a giant long table. There was always a lot of laughter around that table.) Celebrate Christmas, and Easter as spiritual disciplines. They can be rescued from the clutches of commercialism. And when you find yourself sighing, "I guess I better clean the house", remind yourself that this is a spiritual discipline. It does something for your soul and the souls of those who come. Redeem All-Hallows-Eve (Halloween) as a celebration of the victory of the saints over the powers of darkness through the power of Christ. Find or make up reasons to celebrate and laugh together.

Celebration puts us in the place to receive the grace of joy. Our call to joy is a call to believe that God’s goodness will overcome the pain of the world. Resurrection will overcome the cross. The Kingdom of God will overtake the Empire of Darkness.  The prophets talk about a time when God’s justice will overtake the suffering and evil in the world. For God’s people to celebrate in a world full of pain is a protest against the darkness. It is a declaration that God will overcome, and evil will not have the last word. We celebrate to express our faith that God is good and created a good world, and in the end joy is eternal and suffering is not. So we need more practice in joy than we do in suffering. AMEN    

Monday, 1 October 2018

spiritual Disciplines- Simplicity

Before I begin I would like to direct you to a couple resources. One is Richard Foster’s book, “Freedom of Simplicity” which expands on his chapter on simplicity in his book “Celebration of Discipline”. I have also been greatly helped in thinking around the topic of money by Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and his “Complete Guide to Money”. If you want to pursue this further please look those resources up.

We are continuing to explore the Spiritual Disciplines. This week we are looking at Simplicity. Simplicity has to do with a focused life. You know your priorities and they are not in conflict. As a Christian discipline we focus on God’s kingdom as our primary priority. After naming a number of things that people might be anxious about Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Christian simplicity is a life with the kingdom of God as the central focus and the main priority. It doesn’t mean you don’t feed yourself, or plan for the future, but it just means that things are put in their proper perspective.

Simplicity has both an inward reality and an outward reality. And both are necessary to practice simplicity. If you just have the outward look of simplicity you become a legalist. You imitate the simplicity of the past, or of others, but it isn’t authentic to you. Some Christians have decided to dress simply, such as the early Quakers (or the Hutterites). They just wore certain colours. Generally, they dressed in the clothing of the working class. You can’t just start dressing that way without having the inward reality. It will just be a costume. It won’t be an outward expression of an inward reality.

Similarly, you can’t have an inward attitude of simplicity without it having an effect on your outward life. It will become hypocrisy. To have an inward focus of the Kingdom of God will set priorities for how we organize out life. It will help us determine what kind of car we drive, and how we dress.

The inward reality of simplicity is based on trusting God for what you need. You trust God to give you your daily bread. You trust God to care for you now and in the future. That also means to believe that what you have has come to you as a gift from God (Deut 8:17). The Kingdom of God is your priority and everything else finds its proper place in your life under that top priority. … The grace we receive from God in the practice of simplicity is that we become free from the hunger for status and luxury. We become free from anxiety about the future, and we become more generous people because we have a healthy detachment from possessions.

It is impossible to talk about simplicity in our society without talking about money. Money and material possessions are a powerful idol in our world. It can be an idol for those who have money, but also for those who don’t have money. The worship of wealth is pervasive. Jim Carrey has been quoted as saying, 
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.”
 Our society seems to think it is the answer. We still think that winning the lottery will solve all our problems. … As Richard Foster says, 
“Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry.”
 In the movie “Wall Street” the character Gordon Gekko speaks for the modern world when he says, 
“Greed is good”.
 The hero in our society goes from rags to riches. But, it wasn’t so long ago that the hero in the Christian tradition went from riches to rags. …

Simplicity helps us stand between two extremes- 
one is wealth hoarding and material obsession, 
and the other is a rejection of creation as evil in itself.

The Bible is full of warnings about making wealth into a God, especially when the accumulation of wealth comes alongside the oppression of the poor. As we heard in Ecclesiastes, 
“The lover of money will not be satisfied with money” (5:10).
 As Jesus has said, 
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. … no one can serve two masters; … You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt 6:19, 24).
 There are many places in Scripture where we are warned about the dangers of making wealth the main focus of our lives.

The biblical tradition is also careful about not rejecting material blessings. The Hebrews are encouraged to enter the Promised Land which is full of material blessings- a land flowing with milk and honey. In Deuteronomy 14 God’s people are given the direction, 
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household” (14:22, 24-26).
 God wants us to enjoy the fruits of creation. … There was a group called the Gnostics who were around during the time of the early church. They rejected the material world as a work of the devil. The early church was quick to reject that group as heretical. The creation is good and to be enjoyed.

Christian simplicity rejects the obsession with and worship of wealth, but it also rejects the Gnostic tendency to demonize wealth. Christian simplicity embraces the proper ordering of wealth under the priority of God’s Kingdom. Wealth is to be used for God’s purposes. … Dallas Willard has said that if we reject wealth in the name of God, then we place it into the hands of those who are not concerned with God. The people we want to have wealth are those who love Jesus and want to spend their wealth under his direction. The world needs disciples of Jesus who spend their wealth under the direction of God.

In “Celebration of Discipline” Richard Foster gives 10 principles to consider in our practice of simplicity.

“First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.”
 Don’t buy things to impress people. 

“Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. … Addiction is slavery. Refuse to be a slave to anything but God”. Watch for any desire that is overtaking your will.

“Third, develop a habit of giving things away”. Fight against attachments and the temptation to hoarding by giving things away. Get rid of things you don’t need. Richard Foster says, “ Most of us could get rid of half of our possessions without any serious sacrifice”.

“Fourth, refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry”. We don’t need a new iPhone just because a new iPhone has been released. There are a lot of people spending a lot of money learning how to sell us the newest gadget or toy. Don’t et them get into your head. Buy what you need and beware of the compulsion to get the newest thing.

“Fifth, learn to enjoy things without owning them.” Share things. Enjoy parks. Go for walks. Go to the library.

“Sixth, develop a deeper appreciation for the creation”. Enjoy being outside. Watch the clouds, look at the stars. Smell the flowers. Watch the birds.

“Seventh, look with a healthy skepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes”. Avoid debt whenever possible. Save up to get what you need rather than going into debt. There are plenty of powers looking to take advantage of you by getting you into debt.

“Eighth, obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech. ‘Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil’” (Matt 5:37). Do what you say you will do. Avoid flattery. We shouldn’t require our signature on a contract before we take our word seriously.

“Ninth, reject anything that breeds the oppression of others”. Don’t allow your money to go to those who oppress the poor through sweat shops or other unfair labour practices. We should be conscious of where our bananas, coffee, and chocolate come from.

“Tenth, shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God”. Temptations to worship other “gods” are everywhere, don’t be fooled.

If we can learn the Spiritual discipline of Simplicity we will learn what Paul knew. He said, 
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13).
 May God grant us the grace of simplicity. AMEN

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Spiritual Disciplines- Service

Image result for john 13 jesus washes feet

At the 10:00am service we were blessed to have Pastor Rick Abma speak to us about service- to learn more about him go here:

This week we are continuing with our sermon series on the spiritual disciplines, and today we are looking at the discipline of service. Service is an act of other-centeredness. It is exerting our energies for the benefit of another.

There are a lot of practical examples of how we can serve. We can serve at a homeless shelter, or we can listen to someone in pain, we can serve a parent with a chronic illness, we can volunteer to clean at the church- or any number of other ways we can serve God, our church, our neighbour, our friend, or our enemies.

The overall outcome is humility. The author and pastor Richard Foster says that being a servant enables a person “to say no to the world’s games of promotion and authority”. It frees us from the game of having to feel better than others. Jesus teaches us that, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matt 20:26).

This can be tricky though because we can use our acts of service to actually inflate our egos rather than learn humility. This happened in Jesus’ day where there were people who sounded trumpets when they gave money. We can serve and be proud that others see how helpful we are. Sometimes there are people who help a charity just because they need a tax-break, or they need some charity work on their resume, or they are managing their image. In those cases there is a real danger that their act of service can be about serving themselves. … The solution when facing that temptation is to do our act of service in secret- so that God alone knows what we have done (Matt 6:4, 6:6, 6:18). It doesn’t mean every act of service we do has to be done in secret, but it can be an antidote when we are tempted to serve our own ego in our acts of service.

Jesus is our perfect example of service, so it is worth taking some time to look at an example of how he served. In John 13 the disciples arrive at a home and are eating supper when Jesus suddenly gets up, takes off his outer clothing, and wraps a towel around his waist. He gets a basin of water and begins washing the disciples' feet. Jesus gets up and dresses like a servant, then he begins doing the work of a servant.

Foot washing was among the lowest of all jobs that could be done. It wasn't just any servant who did the foot washing. It was the lowest ranking servant who did the foot washing. It was the job even the servants didn't want, so it was the duty of the lowest ranking servant. Each time a servant did the foot washing they were reminded that they were the lowest of the low. The reason they were doing this task is because there was no one lower than them.

The fact that Jesus gets up to do this task is shocking. Here is the Lord of the universe washing the feet of fishermen and tax collectors. The way the world understands power and authority has just been turned on its head. In this foot washing Jesus is enacting the ancient hymn we find in Philippians ch 2:5-8, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”

Jesus places himself in the lowest possible position. It is a position of service to his disciples. And that points to his greater act of service to the world, which is the cross.

Peter can't accept Jesus in this role. His mind is still working in the way of the world. It can be uncomfortable to have someone serve you, especially someone you respect. Peter cannot put Jesus in that role. It is like the queen of England offering to clean your toilet, but amplified infinitely. Peter has a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that power and authority in the kingdom work differently. The ways of the world are not the ways of the kingdom. Peter needs to understand this, and so do we.

Judas was also present among the disciples during the foot washing. Jesus moved the basin and knelt at Judas' feet. And Jesus knew. He knew what was going through Judas' mind. We can't even guess as to the reasons, but Jesus knew. He knew the betrayal he was planning. He knew that Judas would set in motion a political machine that would result in his agonizing torture and death. And Jesus kneels at his feet. He pours water over the feet that have walked with him for three years of dusty roads. He washes the feet that will shortly walk away from the light into the darkness of the night to betray him to those who will kill him. The love he shows Judas is not comprehensible in any kind of worldly way.

When we move from the foot washing back to the meal we are surprised to find Judas again at a place of honour. He is close enough to Jesus for him to serve him by giving him bread. He is close enough for Jesus to whisper to him without anyone else hearing. At the meal, Judas was at a place of honour close to Jesus. Even those within the church whose hearts are set on betrayal are treated with loving service by Jesus. When we are at our darkest, we still find Jesus lovingly washing our feet and feeding us bread.

Jesus is the embodiment of the God who is love. God's love is not something we earn or work for. It doesn't matter if we are a traitor like Judas, or a zealous follower like Peter. Jesus loves us and serves us because that's who he is. It's not really about who we are, it's about who he is.

Jesus' whole life is an integrated act of loving service to us and to his Father. His birth, baptism, teaching, healing, exorcism, cross, resurrection, and ascension are all about Jesus' loving service. They all work together. The life of Jesus is an integrated whole. This foot washing teaches us about the cross. The cross is a loving act of service. It is Jesus taking the lowest position. Jesus takes the most despised position as an act of loving service. His whole life is offered to us in love. His life-force is poured out so that it can pour into us.

His love poured out, is then available for us to take into ourselves. As we feed on him we become more like him. The Lord of the universe washes our feet, and in return he doesn't ask that we wash his, He asks instead that we wash each other's feet. Our service and love to him is shown in our love and service to each other. And this is how we become known- it is by our love. We aren't shown to be followers of Jesus by the way we dress, or what we eat or don't eat. We aren't shown to be followers of Jesus based or our rituals, or our rule following. … We are shown to be followers of Jesus by our love for one another- by our willingness to serve each other and even give our lives for one another. It is demanding, but Jesus doesn't ask anything of us that he hasn't done for us.

We serve and love because God has poured his love into us. We serve and love because that is who we have become because of Jesus' love. We serve and love because Jesus, who is our Lord and God, has served us first.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Spiritual Disciplines- Study

Image result for augustine at study

We are continuing with our sermon series on the spiritual disciplines. This week we are looking at the spiritual discipline of study.

My hope is that as we explore these that we will each take a look at our Rule of Life- which is our spiritual exercise plan- and update it. What is our plan for going as disciples of Jesus- what do we do daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, yearly. What is our exercise plan? how are we purposely putting ourselves in the place where God can transform us.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest command was, he said, 
‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).
 If Jesus gave that as the most important command, then we should probably give that some serious consideration. What does it mean to “Love the Lord your God with all your mind”? I suspect it means something like- using our mental powers to gain insight and wisdom to grow as disciples of Jesus for the benefit of the kingdom as it expands on earth.

What we are aiming at is a life marked by wisdom. We want to be people who live wisely. We are called to be people who apply knowledge to our lives for the benefit of those around us.

Ironically, we can know a lot of information without being wise. I’m sure we have all met people who know a lot, but are really pretty clueless about life. If you spend much time in academic circles you will find people with PhDs who don’t really know how to be in a relationship, or how to control their anger. They have a lot of information, but their lives are a mess. They lack wisdom.

That’s not what we want. We don’t want to just pack our head full of facts. We want to aim at wisdom that helps us live life better. We want to engage our mind so that it takes on the shape of the mind of Christ.

The primary place for study for Christians is the Bible. We pour over the words that have instructed and inspired generations of God’s people. We internalize the words that shaped Jesus. 

 The Prayer Book collect for the second Sunday of Advent says,
“BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.”
That’s not a bad prayer before reading your Bible, even outside the second week of Advent.

Studying our Bible should be a daily practice for Christians. Just as we should pray daily, we should also read our Bible daily. That is the reason Morning and Evening Prayer put them together- Prayer and Bible reading. They are the daily food for our soul.

There are a variety of strategies we might use to read the Bible. For example, you might want to follow a lectionary, which is a schedule of reading that gives little chunks of scripture from all over the Bible. For each day, morning (p45) and evening (p66), a lectionary (click here for a lectionary p450; or here, or here) will give you a reading from a psalm, an Old Testament reading, an Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading. The lectionary is designed to help you read quite a bit of the Bible in a year (or 2), depending on the lectionary you are using.

Or, you may want to study one book in depth. So, every morning you read a chapter in Paul’s letter to the Romans. You might want to read it with a commentary. For example, N.T. Wright has a book called “Romans for Everyone”. He will give a chunk of Romans and then comments on it to hopefully make it easier to study. A good study Bible will be helpful for this as well. It might also be helpful to read a book like Gordon Fee’s “How to Read the Bible for all its Worth”, which gives advice about reading the Bible, generally. For example, as Christians, it is important to read the entire Bible through the person of Jesus Christ.

Studying only starts with reading. To study we need to read, re-read, concentrate on what is being communicated, understand it well enough to describe it to others, and also take time to reflect on the deeper significance of what we have read. … We also need to come to the Bible with a level of humility. We have to assume it has wisdom to teach us, rather than assuming it is an old dusty book from an irrelevant culture. As Christians we read with the sense that God can speak to us through these words.

I think it is helpful to mark up your Bible. Underline things that stand out to you. Underline patterns of words. Some people find it helpful to keep a journal or write in the margin of your Bible as you reflect on what you have read. Join a Bible study so you can hear the insights of others.

You might also want to go on a retreat to spend a few days focusing on a special part of scripture. For example, you might want to take a few days and go to Kingsfold in Cochrane and read and reread the Gospel of John. Or, you might want to go to Regent Audio, which is Regent College’s store where you can buy recording of their seminary classes. I have a number of those that I listen to as I drive or go for walks.

There is a lot more we could say about reading the Bible. I think some of the best advice I received when I first started reading it was to just do it. Even if it is just one paragraph that takes you 10 seconds to read, make sure you don’t end your day without some of the Bible. I was told, “don’t turn out the light without taking in the light”.

When i started I also found that I often didn’t understand what I was reading. The advice a wise person gave me was this. They asked me, 
“do you remember what you ate 2 weeks ago for lunch on Tuesday?” 
Of course, I had no clue. They went on, 
“reading the Bible can be like that. It fed you for that day, even if you don’t remember it all. Trust that it has fed you and is working in you on a level you don’t quite understand”.

Of course, it is important to mention that we are to study more than the Bible. Psalm 19 tells us that, 
“The heavens are telling the glory of God” (19:1).
 And from our Gospel reading it seems like Jesus, in addition to knowing the Scriptures in depth, also spent time studying the birds and the lilies of the field. He saw that there were lessons about our life with God to be learned from the natural word. In a sense, everything has God’s fingerprints on it, and so there is something to be learned about the artist. … slide In Philippians 4:8 Paul says, 
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
 There is a lot inside the Bible that falls into that description, but there is also a lot outside the Bible that falls in that category.

It is also important that we learn to study ourselves to gain insight into our character. If you have an interaction with someone and you notice you became quite angry it is important to take time to consider what it was that caused the anger to arise in you. Was there a value you hold dear that was offended? Was there an injustice you were being confronted with? Was your ego wounded? If we can understand ourselves better, it is less likely that we will walk through life in an unconscious way. We will be better able to shape our reactions. Hopefully, we will be able to limit our negative unhelpful reactions, and increase our helpful reactions.

We should also be willing to study relationships. Notice what healthy marriages are like. Learn how to develop strong friendships. We should study institutions and cultural movements. If we learn the ideas that have shaped history then we can put our own time and culture into context. We can see that the individualism we all assume is just the way people think is actually a part of a culture and has a history we inherited. (It's a bit like how no one thinks they have an accent). There are plenty of ideas that take root inside our heads just because we are born into our culture. The idea is never presented to us in a way that we can say if it is true or not, it is just there, like the air we breathe. … Just as we study ourselves it is important to study our surroundings, including the ideas that surround us. We do this with the ultimate end to become more effective disciples of Jesus.

We should also study the classic writings of Christians who have gone before us (I'll put a bit of a list below). We should especially study the lives and writings of the saints. 

What information we put into our minds- what we focus our attention on- will shape our minds. If we watch 8 hours of reality television every day, that will shape our mind. If we play 8 hours of violent videogames per day, that will shape our mind. Just as the kind of food we put into our body will have an effect on the health of our body, so what we feed our mind will shape our minds. If we want our minds to be Christ-like, then we need to feed our minds in a way that match up with that goal. A Christ-like mind is a wise mind, and that is a mind that loves God. AMEN

My Life with the Saints by James Martin

As part of learning to love God with our mind Christians study what they believe so they can better serve the God they love and communicate what they believe to others. The following are a few book recommendations that may be helpful. 

Most modern Bible translations are good. I tend to use the following:
NIV (New international Version)
NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)
ESV (English Standard version)
Some people avoid the King James Version (KJV) because it uses older language and can be difficult for some people to read. There are many other translations. Some translations are attempts to translate the ideas rather than the specific words. Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” is such a Bible. More license has been taken in this version and therefore it tends to be as much a commentary on the Bible as a translation of the Bible.   
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.” (Matt 5:13- ESV)
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matt 5:13- NRSV)
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matt 5:13- NIV)
“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” (Matt 5:13- KJV)
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.” (Matt 5:13- The Message)

There are many good study Bibles. These include a translation of the Bible and also includes articles and footnotes that help the reader understand the Bible better. Sometimes the note gives a clue as to the original historical and cultural context. Sometimes the note gives insight into the original language, or it might point the reader to an Old Testament passage that was in the mind of the author as they were writing. Sometimes the note helps to explain a difficult or confusing part of the text.
The Oxford Annotated Bible
The Spiritual Formation Bible
The Life Application Bible
Introductions to Christianity
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (I tend to recommend everything Lewis wrote)
Finding Faith by Brian McLaren
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

Reading the Bible
The Story We Find Ourselves In by Brian McLaren
The New Joy of Discovery In Bible Study by Oletta Wald
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee
How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee
You can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft
The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

Being a student of Christ:
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Renovation of the Heart and Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
The Good and Beautiful God/Life/Community by James Bryan Smith
A Guide to Christian Spiritual Formation by Evan Howard
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen
The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides
A Long Obedience by Eugene Peterson
Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Living Church by John Stott

A Primer for Christian Doctrine by Jonathan Wilson
Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore
The Modern Theologians by Ford
The Moral Vision of the New Testament By Richard Hays
At Home in a Strange Land by Andrew Sloan
Heresies and How to Avoid Them by Quash and Ward
A History of Christian Thought (3 volumes)  by Justo Gonzalez

The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez
The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright
How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? by Larry Hurtado
A History of the Church in England by Moorman
The Story of Christianity by David Bentley Hart

The Accidental Anglican by Todd Hunter
Welcome to Sunday by Christopher Webber
Welcome to the Episcopal Church by Christopher Webber
Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction by Mark Chapman

Apologetics (this is a field of Christian study that attempts to address Christianity’s critics)
Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart
Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Kreeft and Tacelli
Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan
The Apologetics Study Bible

Evangelism (how to speak to people about what you believe)
Evangelism for Normal People by John Bowen
More Ready Than You Realize by Brian McLaren

I'm happy to make other recommendations. Feel free to ask me if there is a particular area you are interested in. 

Monday, 10 September 2018

Spiritual Disciplines- Prayer

Image result for saint teresa of avila art

We are continuing with our sermon series on the Spiritual Disciplines. This week we are looking at the discipline of prayer.

Prayer is such a massive topic that we really can only scratch the surface. There are a lot of good books out there on prayer if you want to dive a bit deeper. One I would recommend is called “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home” by Richard Foster.

He delves into many different types of prayer. And just as there are many kinds of prayer, there are also a number of different kinds of techniques to enter into prayer that Christians have used throughout the centuries (I will place a few of these below).

Prayer is absolutely foundational to the Christian life. Jesus was a man of prayer- as were his followers. Therefore, so should we be. 

With so much variety around prayer it might be helpful to have some specific and practical helps. This is what I tend to suggest. (I realize that many of you have your own patterns, and if you find that helpful feel free to ignore me). I think we should aim at 20 minutes of intentional prayer per day. Some find it easier in the morning, and some find it easier at night. Regardless of when, do try to find a consistent time and stick to it. I know some days just get away from us, but I think that that 20 minutes every day at the same time of day is what we should generally aim at. As you delve into the life of prayer some of you will have times of prayer that last an hour or more and that’s great. Sometimes it will feel like 5 minutes. You might also find that 5 minutes can feel like an hour. Your prayer life will shift with what is going on in your life. You will probably pray differently as a parent with young kids at home, than you would as a retired person, or as a single person.  You might also find that different types of prayer seem to work better for you at different times of your life. (There is even a book that helps you to match a prayer style to your Myers Briggs personality type- "Prayer and Temperament")

You might also find your heart drawing towards God throughout the day outside of your set times of prayer. I remember having a season in my life when it felt like my heart was burning through my chest. I had this intense desire to find somewhere private to pray- I remember locking myself in a washroom or mechanical room so I could pray. Words weren’t always a part of those times of prayer. Often it was like an inner groaning (which I think might be what Paul is referring to in Romans 8). That’s not an unusual experience for new converts. I think God gives them a special grace to motivate them to chase Him.

Prayer can look like many different things. Prayer can be sitting in silence as you seek the presence of God. Prayer can be a child on their bed praying for their family. (The payer that Jesus taught his disciples is simple enough that a child can pray it and understand it- and deep enough that theologians can spend their lives digging into its depths.) Prayer can be written like Morning and Evening Prayer that we have in our prayer books. Or, it can be a spontaneous conversation. Even with written prayers there should probably be some spontaneous prayer mixed in. Prayer can include a list of people or concerns you wish to pray to God about, but it should also include times of listening, so God has an opportunity to speak back. Prayer can also be the repetition of a line from a Psalm as you walk along that draws your heart up to God. There is tremendous variety when it comes to prayer.

The topic of prayer really is a massive world and we could have a whole sermon series just on this topic. At its most simple, prayer is reaching out to God. It is seeking to strengthen your relationship with God. It is foundational to the Christian life because the Christian life is a life in co-operation with God that will never end. We seek to know who God is, personally, because we are going to be spending eternity with God. If we never seek out God’s presence, why do we think we would want to seek Him out when we reach our death? Seeking God’s presence is not something to be delayed.

Prayer also reorients our perspective. Prayer helps us see things from God’s perspective. In our first reading, when Elisha prayed for God to open the eyes of the man who was with him. His perspective changed. He previously saw the army of the enemy surrounding them, but now he saw an angelic army that greatly outnumbered the army he had been afraid of (2 Kings 6:17). Often, prayer is about changing us. It is about seeing God’s way of looking at our situation. Prayer is where we meet with God and are transformed. It is where we bring our lives to God, not as we wish they were, but as they are with all our pain, passion, and problems. Prayer is a part of our life before God, the goal of which is to love and serve God and to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ. Prayer helps to make us holy by transforming our character- our will, desires, motives, and behaviors.

Prayer changes us. Prayer can also change the world outside us. There have even been some scientific studies in the area of prayer. A doctor named Larry Dossey wrote a book called “Healing Words” where he describes these studies. 
As an agnostic medical doctor he came to the following conclusion after looking at these studies, 
“over time I decided that not to employ prayer with my patients was the equivalent of deliberately withholding a potent drug or surgical procedure. … I simply could not ignore the evidence for prayer’s effectiveness without feeling like a traitor to the scientific tradition. And so, after weighing these factors for many months, I concluded that I would pray for my patients” (Xviii). “[T]he evidence is simply overwhelming that prayer functions at a distance to change physical processes in a variety of organisms, from bacteria to humans. These data, …, are so impressive that I have come to regard them as among the best-kept secrets in medical science” (p.2).
 He believes the studies show that when lifting a person in prayer- with an attitude of empathy, love, compassion, trust, and gratitude- that prayer is effective.

This doesn’t mean that the results of prayer can always be predicted, but he found that the studies say that overall prayer has an effect. Of course, there are still “sickly saints and healthy sinners” that show us that the spiritual world is a complicated place. Sometimes the deeper healing of the soul takes priority over physical healing. For example, Paul had a “thorn in his flesh” that would not be healed, which he came to believe was allowed for the development of his humility (2 Cor 12:7). Our character will outlast our earthly life, so I suspect our character is the priority for God. There is a lot of mystery mixed with the suffering of the world. We shouldn't pretend to understand it all, or to minimize it.
  We live in a world that is often beyond our control, but that should not stop us from praying. 

The fact that prayer doesn’t always bring physical healing doesn’t refute the fact that sometimes it does bring healing. We don’t understand how it all works, but sometimes it works and so we should pray for healing while also understanding that there are deeper purposes that might mean healing will not always come. There may be a deeper purpose in suffering that is beyond our ability to comprehend.

We also have to be careful to not think about prayer as a technology we use to get our will done. As if we just say the right words we can get what we want done. We can’t lose sight of the fact that prayer is about a relationship with God.

Sometimes I think about my relationship with my boys. I hope that my sons are not primarily concerned with manipulating me to get me to give them candy or buy them toys. Though, no doubt, toys and candy pass through their minds from time to time. I hope that they are more concerned with us being together because we love each other. That doesn’t mean they should never ask me for anything. It just means that the asking is embedded in a relationship. The relationship with my sons is not primarily about them asking me for things, but that is a normal part of a parent-child relationship.

When my sons make a request of me I can respond in one of three ways. I can say “yes”, “no”, or “not now”.

If I say “yes” then that means that my son has asked me within the realm of my will. If I tell my boys to go play outside in the back yard they could be doing a variety of things and still be “in my will”. Being “in my will” doesn’t mean I have defined exactly which game they play and how they play it. There is a range of things they could be doing. They also know that I don’t want them to hurt each other and start throwing punches at each other’s noses. I also don’t want them playing in the street, or to do anything dangerous that could lead to them getting seriously hurt. So, there is a range of things that they could be doing and still be in my will if I tell them to go in the back yard and play.[1] I think this is similar to how God works. I think we can be doing a number of things and still be in the range of God’s will.

If my sons ask me for ice cream. I might say “yes” if it is in the realm of my will, which means that it fits into the overall context of my will for them.

There are times when God does say “yes” to a request in prayer. When we ask “in Jesus’ name” what we are doing is we are asking as Jesus’ disciples, who are learning to live with his desires becoming our desires and his life living within us. Praying in the name of Jesus means having a sense of God’s will and what God wants to happen in the world. Amazingly, God has chosen to work through prayer. We have been given the privilege and opportunity to cooperate with God through prayer. I’m sure we have very little understanding of the power of our prayer in effecting the world.

I might also say “no” to my sons' request for ice cream. If, for example, we are close to the time we will be eating supper. I don’t want them to spoil their appetite, so I’ll say “no”. I will deny them this not because I don’t want them to have good things, but because I want better things for them. Having a healthy diet is more important than having a treat. I also know that too much ice cream can sometimes cause a stomach ache, or can become unhealthy. So, while my sons might see my saying “no” as being mean, the reason I say “no” is because I want something better for them, or want to prevent future pain they can’t see.

Similarly, God might say “no” in response to our requests in prayer. We might be denied certain requests because there might be effects on our soul, or on the souls of others, that would be undesirable.

When my sons ask me for ice cream I might also say “not now”. I may have planned for us to go for ice cream after supper. At home we might have had ice cream cones. Maybe the ice cream is the bottom of the bucket, melted and refrozen 8 times, kind of ice cream. And maybe I was planning on getting hot fudge Sundays after supper. So, I might ask them to wait because the timing isn’t right.

Similarly, God might respond with “not now” to our prayer requests. God sees the bigger picture and he can see that now isn’t the right time, or that he has something better planned for you in the future. This can be a difficult answer to hear because it seems like such a decent request to us. At times we really have to trust that God has a greater understanding than we do and that He answers prayer according to what is best for us and for others.

Again, we want to be careful to remember that prayer is about a relationship with God, not merely a way to manipulate God to get what we want. There is a certain mystery to all this, but it remains that we are invited by God to pray and to be his people praying for ourselves and for the world. And by doing so we participate in God’s work in the world. AMEN

[1] I once heard Dallas Willard teach on this point

Some practical experiments with ways to pray:

The most simple I have found is to pray concerning things you 
(1) are thankful for and 
(2) things you need help with, or help you want God to give others.
You can do this with children, but it can also be a profound prayer for everyone. 

There are also apps for your smart phone for Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer (often called the Daily Offices). 
There are also PDFs (electronic documents) found here

Sacred Reading (Lectio Divina)

Words of scripture come alive as they touch the Holy Spirit alive and working in us. This is the same Spirit that inspired the writing, gathering, and editing of the Bible.

Usually we read for information- to explain, or to be entertained. Lectio Divina is a way of reading that places us under the text, rather than us being over it as controllers and consumers. In Lectio Divina we are not attempting to gain information in order to describe God, or get God to do what we want, or even to master the “text”. Rather, in Lectio Divina we are allowing the “Text” to master us- to allow God to speak to us directly through the Word of God.

The Egyptian Orthodox monk ‘Matthew the Poor’ talks about ways of reading the Bible. He says, “There are two ways of reading:
“The first is when a man reads and puts himself and his mind in control of the text, trying to subject its meaning to his own understanding and then comparing it with the understanding of others.

“The second is when a man puts the text on a level above himself and tries to bring his mind into submission to its meaning, and even sets the text up as a judge over him, counting it as the highest criterion.

“The first is suitable for any book in the world, whether it be a work of science or of literature. The second is indispensable in reading the Bible. The first way gives man mastery over the world, which is his natural role. The second gives God mastery as the all-wise and all powerful Creator.

“But if man confuses the roles of these two methods, he stands to lose from them both, for if he reads science and literature as he should read the Gospel, he grows small in stature, his academic ability diminishes, and his dignity among the rest of creation dwindles.

“And if he reads the Bible as he should read science, he understands and feels God to be small; the divine being appears limited and his awesomeness fades. We acquire a false sense of our own superiority over divine things- the very same forbidden thing Adam committed in the beginning.” (p 16) Matthew the Poor, the Communion of Love.

The 4 elements of Lectio Divina are 
1) reading; 
2) meditation; 
3) prayer; and 

4) contemplation.

Reading: First choose a piece of scripture that you would like to pray with, or use a reading for the day from a reading plan. This is not reading for entertainment or reading for gathering information. This is allowing God to speak to you through scripture. Try to use a Bible that has no distractions in it (e.g. notes, highlights, or underlining). Also, try to use a translation that is easy to read. Try to do this in a quiet place with no distractions. Begin with a prayer requesting God’s presence and direction. Repeatedly read the passage slowly.

Read only what the words say. Don’t read into it. Let the words stand on their own. Slow down and get the words right. Humble yourself before the words.

Meditation: We move from looking at the words of the text to entering the world of the text. As we take this text into ourselves, we find that the text takes us into itself. Scripture is connected and interconnected- not separate bits and pieces. Jesus is the context with which to read scripture. Move from being a critic on the outside of the text, to being inside and appreciating and noticing what you see. Be a curious child. Allow your memory to be active, drawing images from your life and from other parts of Scripture.

Prayer: is language used in relation to God. God reveals himself personally through language. We pray shaped by and in the name of Jesus. God speaks to us, and listens to us. We are most ourselves when we pray. Scripture is our most normative access to God.

Pay attention to what is happening inside of you as you read. What parts do you like? What parts don’t you like? Why? What associations or memories are triggered by the reading? Try not to edit your thoughts, just let them be, and discern what God is trying to say to you. What part of the reading seems to stand out? Why? What are the underlying values and assumptions of the scripture? What feelings arise in you? Continue to ask God for guidance. What is behind your emotions? Where is the reading touching your life?

Contemplation: this means living the read/meditated/prayed Scriptures in everyday ordinary life. It means getting the scriptures into our bones. Contemplation means living what we read- being conscious of it in the moment. Life originates from God’s Word. In contemplation we let God’s word flow through us and become life.[1]

1st Reading- Read- What does it say? What are the meaning of the words? Don’t read into it.

2nd reading- Meditation- allow yourself to be drawn into the text. Where is your mind drawn? What do you notice? Allow your curiosity to draw you in.

3rd Reading- Prayer- What might God being saying to you through this text? What is standing out and why? Where does it connect with your life? What memories or emotions are triggered?

4th Reading- Contemplation- how might you apply this text to your life? How might you live this text? Are you to act or think in a new way?

[1] See “Spiritual Reading” in Dictionary of Christian Spirituality.

The Jesus Prayer-

The words of this prayer are “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”.  It is best to practice this in a quiet place away from distractions. It may be helpful to match your breathing with the words of this prayer. Breathing in pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”, and breathing out pray, “have mercy on me, a sinner”. Sit in a comfortable position and try to be still. 

Centering Prayer-

This prayer is essentially attempting to still one’s self, while also being aware of what is taking place inside one’s self. Sit with your eyes closed or just slightly open. Try to relax completely while maintaining a comfortable posture. Let go of all thoughts about the past or the future. Release any tension you notice in your body. Choose a short word and focus on it (e.g. “God”, “love”, “Jesus”). Feel free to let go of the word as long as you are not distracted by thoughts, memories, or sensations. However, whenever you do get distracted, gently bring yourself back to this word. Try to maintain this practice for at least 20 minutes. Give yourself some time to gently come out of the prayer, perhaps using this time to express your thankfulness to God in prayer, or repeating the Lord’s Prayer.

Another way is to, similarly, sit comfortably in a quiet place. Choose a phrase to repeat “Ma-ra-na-tha” (Aramaic, “come, Lord”), or “Come, Lord Jesus”. Close your eyes and quiet yourself. Keep repeating the phrase for at least twenty minutes. Allow the phrase to form a rhythm with your breath. Focus on becoming inwardly peaceful and resting quietly in God’s presence.


“Meditation” is sometimes distinguished from “Contemplation”. Contemplation is more like Centering Prayer where the content of the prayer is the silence itself. The silence and emptiness is noticed to be neither silent, nor, empty, but filled with God’s presence. “Meditation”, on the other hand, has content that we meditate on. We turn it over in our minds. This content can be a passage from the Bible- a concept, an event, etc. Be careful of dividing these two methods of prayer too much though.

One method of meditation guides one into one’s self using the imagination and the senses. This type often uses an image or biblical story as a guide. If you are using a biblical passage (e.g. Mark 4:35-41, “Jesus calms the storm), walk yourself through it slowly. Imagine the setting using your five senses. What does it look like? What time of day is it? What does it smell like? What does it sound like when you are with the crowd? On the sea before the storm? During the storm? After the storm? Walk yourself through the story slowly, what is Jesus doing during these moments?

The Examination

(You may receive the most benefit from this practice if you have a spiritual director). Begin by giving thanks to God for the grace received in your life. Then continue by asking for the illumination of one’s sins and short-comings, and pray for the grace to grow past them. Examine yourself in thoughts and actions during this day- what you have done and what you have neglected to do. Take your time and go through the day slowly- from waking to this moment. Examine your life looking for sin and virtue.

Compare your thoughts and actions with; prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, goodness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, chastity, humility, and diligence.

Compare your thoughts and actions with; pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

Or, you may try comparing you life and day to the Ten Commandments, being careful to spend time on each one. You might want to also try slowly moving through the Lord’s Prayer, line by line, or word by word. Or, compare your life to a list of the disciplines. Try to notice where God has been present in your day, and where you think He has been absent.

Pray for forgiveness for the sins committed and ask to be strengthened in virtue for the glory of God and for the good of the spreading of the Kingdom. End with the “Our Father”.


Find a picture that will help you pray. This could be a picture of Jesus, or of a biblical scene. Keep in mind that you are not praying to the painting, you are praying through it. While true icons follow a specific style, you may find other pictures useful as well. As you pray allow yourself to enter the icon- be drawn in by it. Use the icon in a similar way that you use scripture- it is not the specific words that matter, it’s what they mean. Examine the details of the painting, think about the symbolism. For example, if it is an Icon of Jesus, why are Jesus’ eyes like this? If Jesus was looking at you like this, what would he be thinking? What would you be thinking and feeling? If you were actually face to face with Jesus in a really physical way, what would you say to him? What would he say to you? Try to lose yourself in the painting.


Journaling can be used with other practices like the examination, sacred reading, or meditation. Begin with prayer, adoring God, Thanking God, and asking God to guide you in your exploration. Go through your day and try to write down the times when you felt God was close and when you felt God was far. What did you do today that you think God cares about most? What did you do today that you think God didn’t care about at all? What have you been praying about lately? Write down your prayers. Write a conversation with God. What is on your heart? What is something you are thankful for? What is something that is bothering you? What reoccurring issues do you struggle with? What sin is most present in your life? What virtue is most present? What is God saying back to you? Can you write God’s part in the conversation? You may want to try looking at a piece of scripture and interact with it using your journal. What questions do you have about the scripture? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it? What are your fears? What issues tend to come up in your interactions with people? Who is your hero? In what ways are you like your hero? In what ways are you not like your hero? End the session with a short time of prayer, thanking God for what has been revealed, and asking for assistance to form your life to who you were created to be.

Body Prayers

Try praying in different positions. Try kneeling, standing, laying prostrate on the ground. Try kneeling with your hands in the air, standing with your hands in the air, sitting with you arms in from of you, as if you are about to receive something. Try praying in “orans” position. Try walking and praying- rhythmically match you breathing with your walking and praying (it may be best to have a memorized prayer, short phrase, or word for this). Try swaying or rocking. Try walking a labyrinth (one is located at the Eaton Centre on Queen and Yonge). Try bending and stretching with your prayers. Try dancing your prayers. Repeatedly make the sign of the cross as you pray. Be conscious of how a different posture changes how you pray.

The Anglican Rosary

The Anglican Rosary is a rope with knots or beads that guide one through a series of repetitive prayers. The Rosary has four weeks (7 beads) separated by a cruciform bead. The Rosary aids prayer by serving as a tactile reminder, bringing one's attention back to the prayers. Suggested prayers for the beads are supplied by the website bellow, or you can assign your own prayers to the weeks, cruciform beads, invitatory bead, and crucifix. Attempt to commit the prayers to memory, and pray around the circle of beads at a steady pace, matching one's breath with the words of the prayers. Also, remember to allow space for moments of silence. Rosaries are supplied by a few places, but you can also make them yourself (see the website). 

Listening Prayer

Follow @RevChrisRoth