Category Archives: Spiritual Disciplines

Grace Time

graceIn any group where people are serious about growth there is always that difficult question that needs to be asked, “How did you go with what you said you were going to do?”

All good groups seek to implement what they are learning. There is little point in studying about loving one another if there is no effort to change throughout the week. It really doesn’t matter how much we know about Jesus or the commands of Jesus or anything else the Bible has to offer if we aren’t seeking to live it out. I’m not talking about getting it right the first time we try but I am talking about making progress. Jesus didn’t say in the Great Commission “teach them to know everything I taught you”. He said, “teach them to obey all that I taught you.” We are supposed to be on a journey of becoming like Jesus. That implies progress of action and not just thought.

If you are going to ask the group,  “What are you going to do this week given what we have been learning?” then take the time the following week to ask them how they went with it. If they know you won’t ask them then there is a good chance they won’t bother trying. When people know that you are going to ask they are more likely to try. Call it laziness, call it busyness call it apathy. If they know you are going to ask then they are more likely to do. So make sure you ask. They want to grow. Honour that desire and make sure you ask the question.

In many groups this time of questioning is called “Accountability”. It’s a horrible word though. It’s a confusing word. Who are they accountable to? The group? God? You? It’s a horrible word because it doesn’t really explain what you are trying to do. If you aren’t careful it degenerates into law. Law is where you state the standard and if they fall short you reaffirm the standard and send them out to try harder. The law is useless when it comes to change. Encouraging someone to do something they can’t is soul crushing. Please, if someone has tried something and they can’t do it then, please, discourage them from trying harder. Trying harder is rarely the answer (admittedly it is the answer when people didn’t really try in the first place but most people who are serious about change are trying really hard).

Instead of applying the law you want to apply grace. Grace is where you state the standard and if they fall short the group, together as a community of God and with God, seeks to help them to grow beyond this sticking point. Grace is receiving something you don’t deserve. That’s what this time is about. Receiving from the community. Allowing their love and acceptance to help you move forward and to change.

What does law and grace look like? Imagine a person belonging to discipleship group who wants to stop yelling at their kids every night trying to get them to bed.  In  the law group  they confess that they yelled 3 times during the week. Their confession is heard. The group prays that they have more strength and self-control next time. That’s the law. In the grace-filled group they confess that they yelled 3 times during the week. Their confession is heard. The group asks how they can help? They decide to call just before bed time to help prepare for the evening routine. They discuss different strategies for motivating the children instead of yelling. They find one new method and take time to practice that in the group so the person feels more competent and confident to try it during the week. They pray together for growth in self-control.

In my groups, to be really clear about what we are seeking to do, I call it grace time. It’s a time where I am going to ask, graciously, the tough questions about an area they said they wanted to grow in. It’s not a time of condemnation. It’s not a time of law. It’s not a time of waving the disappointed finger at them. It’s a time of grace. It’s a time of receiving the support and love of the group to help them become the person they want to be.



Filed under Discipleship, Gather, Spiritual Disciplines

Replace anxiety with peace

Worry QuotesAnxiety manifests in physical and emotional ways. Nausea, fatigue, sleeplessness, muscle ache, headache, high blood pressure to name a few. It is a sense of dread, of fear about tomorrow. It causes worry, stress, and often panic.

It is a disease of “What if?” “What if…I can’t do this? What if she doesn’t like me? What if I go bald? What if I lose my job? What if  my children turn their backs on me? What if people know what I did 20 years ago? WHAT IF?” And it’s just not in the bad times that these questions pop up. Even when things are wonderful anxiety challenges that things will stay that way.

Anxiety is not just a mental challenge that can be overcome with logic. Those suffering with anxiety often know that they are anxious for no reason but feelings of fear and dread are real. They know it doesn’t make sense but they can’t shut down the emotions. Living with anxiety is like being followed by a voice. It knows all your insecurities and uses them against you. It gets to the point when it’s the loudest voice in the room. The only one you can hear.


God doesn’t want you to live with anxiety. When you became a Christian you found peace WITH God. He wants you to experience his peace. Peace WITH God is supposed to move you toward having the peace OF God. Anxiety is part of living in a broken world but we can grow through it and experience the peace OF God.

There is a lot written in the Bible about having the peace of God. I want to look at one small passage. There is much more the Bible has to say on this and I would encourage you to explore that. The passage is in the book of Philippians and was written by Paul who had suffered much and had learnt to overcome worry.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:2–9, ESV)

There are 6 things in this passage that we can do toward having the peace of God.

At the beginning of this passage Paul asks both Euodia and Syntyche to get alone. The conflict is so severe he asks the community to help them work through it. When we are out of relationship with people the peace of God escapes us. We cannot have a vertically great relationship with God without having a great horizontal one with others too.

Granted, there are some people you will never make peace with. Some people are just too far gone to ever be reconciled with. But, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. If your relationship with another can be restored then restore it. If they made the offensive then you can take the first step to fixing the relationship. And if you made the offensive then take the first step to fixing the relationship. Either way, take the first step and restore the relationship.

And include others. Sometimes the gulf between us and another is too big and we can’t hear them anymore. Get others involved and have a mediator to help you work it through. That’s the beauty of living in a community of people who are focused on helping you grow without judgement – you can get put your hand up and say, “Please help me fix this.”

So, the first step is People. Fix your relationship with people. Having looked horizontally and sought to fix things it’s time to look up and rejoice in God. Rejoicing in God moves our attention from us to the glorious. This is actually very hard for some people to do because they are so self-absorbed. Praising God is a selfless act. It’s an important discipline in dealing with anxiety. When we praise God we lift our lives from the physical realm to the Spiritual realm. We remember that life is not about us. We remember that God is big and our problems are small. That God is eternal and our problems are finite. Take time to praise God. When God is praised we seem him for who he is and we see ourselves for who we are. We were broken and God restored us. We have faults but God is growing us. We have made mistakes but God has forgiven us.  And when we see that of ourselves we can see that in others and our stance, or poise, before them changes.

When we look in the eyes of God in the midst of our brokenness our mistakes and see eyes of love shinning back we are better able to pass that look onto others. We can be reasonable with others because God has been (more than) reasonable with us. We can be gracious with others because God has been gracious with us. We can approach others with a win/win attitude.

And if there was one thing you simply must do it is to pray about your situation. Anxiety and prayer are more opposed to each other than fire and water. Don’t just winge and whine to God. Take time to look around your life and see those things you can thank him for. God will hear your prayer and begin to make changes not just in your head but also in your heart. How you think about the issue causing you to be anxious will change. How you feel about the issue causing you to be anxious will also change. Both your thinking and your feelings will be altered. The peace of God comes from God. He is the source of our peace. We pray, not to change God’s mind, but, to change ours. When we pray we change. So we pray for our needs. We pray for the needs of those around us. We give thanks to God. Giving thanks and being joyful go together like a shoe and a foot or a glove and a hand.

It’s no good praying if we don’t actively move our minds to those things that will bring positivity into our lives. We can’t stop the anxious thoughts from entering our minds but we can decide what we focus on. We can choose what to thing about. The happiness of your life comes from the quality of your thoughts. Before you can change what you think you must change what goes into your mind. What you put into your mind is what comes out. What do you think about? What do you ponder on? When your mind drifts where do you let it go? Paul calls us to think on truthful things, upon excellent things, upon good things.

Never try and force a thought out of your head. That doesn’t work. For example, don’t think about a pink elephant with yellow dots. The harder you try to get rid of that image the stronger it becomes. Instead, let the thought stay but gently bring in the thoughts you want. Refocus your mind. Positive thoughts lead to positive feelings which leads to positive behaviour. Ponder on these thoughts.

I deliberately have 3-4 thoughts that fit this description. Thoughts that I allow my mind to go towards and away from anxiety. One of those thoughts are the memory of watching my son play a table tennis match. He was down 5 to 9 in a game to 11. He stayed ca
lm. He took one point at a time. Even when it got to 8-10 he didn’t let it phase him. he drew that game at 10-10 and then after several back and forths he won the game. That’s a lovely, excellent thought for me. Pondering on that helps to dull anxiety.

Lastly, we need to practice these disciplines. We have tendency toward brokenness and negativity. Chances are nobody has ever taught you how to fight worry. Often we think of the Christian life like a light bulb – it’s on or it’s off. Black or white. Top or bottom. In reality there are levels of ability. And we can grow in these qualities just like we do physically. God has given each of us a body with the promise that this body can do amazing things – but it’s up to us to develop our bodies. If we want to be strong we need to lift heavy things. If we want to be flexible then we need to stretch. And if we want the peace OF God then we need to practise those things that help us to have more of God’s peace. We call these spiritual disciplines. Just like physical discipline we develop and grow in those areas which we exercise. If you want to be stronger than you exercise your strength. If you want to be fast then you do exercises that will make you faster. Paul, here, outlines those spiritual disciplines we need to grow so that we have the peace OF God in our lives – all the time. If you don’t exercise then guess what? You won’t get any better. You will remain anxious. Life will knock you around. Or, you can grow spiritually using these exercises and experience more of God’s peace.

Peace of God = People + Praise + Poise + Prayer + Ponder + Practice

  • Make peace (as far as it depends on you) with others. Get help to restore relationships if you need it
  • Praise God
  • Maintain a gracious stance and be reasonable with everyone (including the @#%# who just cut you off while driving)
  • Pray with thanksgiving
  • Ponder positive thoughts
  • Practice these things until you can do these disciplines well (forgiveness, praise, poise, prayer, pondering)

Try these disciplines and let me know if your sense of peace increases.

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The Easiest (most difficult) Spiritual Exercise

woman_sitting_alone_on_a_bench-wallpaper-800x600Some spiritual exercises require activity – such as worship, prayer, evangelism. Other exercises require inactivity – such as fasting and solitude. These exercises of inactivity are not necessarily easy to do even though they involve less direct action. Inaction can be tougher than action.

This blog entry is about an easy (difficult) exercise called solitude. Solitude is giving God time and space with no competition. It means removing yourself from the constant interruptions of life and just ‘being’ with God. What makes this exercise easy is that there really is nothing to do. It’s not about talking with God or studying the Bible or even reading the Bible – it’s about being in the arms of your beloved. It’s about stopping, embracing God with a man-hug, and just being.

The purpose of this exercise is to stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’. It means being completely present to God with no distractions. You may pray but you don’t have to. You may read your Bible but you don’t have to. It’s a non-agenda time. Perhaps, if you are a person with a prayer list or Bible reading plan, you may need to put them aside. I would strongly encourage you to actually put these aside for a while just to ensure you break the ‘doing’. We need to be careful that this time is ‘with’ God. Often our (good) spiritual exercises, such as prayer and reading of our Bible, can get in the way of simply ‘being’. In the Biblical account (Luke 10:38-42) of Martha and Mary it is Mary who is commended for just ‘being’. Martha, while serving the Lord and doing good was too busy to be ‘with’ the Lord . Ministry, prayer, Bible Study – all of these things are good but a time of solitude puts all of these things aside to just ‘be’.

What makes this exercise so difficult is that it challenges our activity. It challenges our desire to be seen, wanted and needed. It challenges our addiction to others, their approval of what we do and who we are. Solitude with God, looking at him and him alone, challenges our conformity to our culture. Solitude strips away our masks. Solitude brings us face to face with God, in silence, and takes the focus off those around us reducing the need to define our lives by those we see everyday.

In prison, solitary confinement is used to break the strongest of wills. We are made to be with others and the fallen human personality depends upon it. Life with God is strengthened by being alone with him. We find ourselves without our social mirrors and we come to see our inner self. Solitude, as it takes hold of our inner being, causes us to ask, “Who am I when all is stripped away? Who am I when I am not being productive? What am I when I am not connected?”

Solitude helps us to see the things, and the people, and our priorities for what they are. We begin to see God more clearly and more importantly we begin to see what he is reflecting back in what he sees in us. God becomes the mirror to our soul. We stop seeing others opinions and start seeing God’s perspective. We see that we loved by God not because of our achievements but because we are his.jesus-hugging

In the midst of these challenges you will likely feel agitated, scattered, distracted. The faster your lifestyle the more likely you are to feel this way. We dislike being unproductive, unapplauded. To stop and just be will take time. If you are sleep deprived (like most people) you are likely to fall asleep. That’s not a bad thing. You would have fallen asleep in the arms of your beloved – enjoy it.

If you haven’t ever tried solitude it’s really very easy. Be still and be with God. No agenda. No activity. Just allow yourself to be embraced by his love. Do it now. Take 1 minute and be still.

I was once challenged to enter a time of solitude for 3 hours. 3 hours! How hard could it be? No agenda, no activity, no problem. I fell asleep. The second I tried I fell asleep. It took me 4 attempts. In the fourth attempt of just sitting still I had one of my best conversations with God. I didn’t set out to. I had no agenda after all. After an hour of sitting silently I sensed an invitation from God to talk, to pray about what was bothering me. Sitting silently, just being for that hour, stripped from me all the superficial concerns I had been having. I encountered God at a much deeper level than I had experienced before.

I wish I could say every prolonged time of solitude had the same response but it hasn’t. Sometimes God has remained silent and withdrawn. A time of solitude may not be a wonderful time of ecstasy. There are dark nights that God will put us through and times of solitude may make those times seem darker. It may not feel like it but these a tremendous blessings which I will talk about at another time. Our culture runs from the dark night but God uses it to bring life.

In order to have a 3 hour time of solitude you you may need to be ruthless with family and friends – 3 hours is a long time to be absent. But it’s worth it and I encourage you to try it. This isn’t to say that 1 minute is not worth it. It is. If you aren’t in a position to be still for 3 hours then be still for 1 hour. If you can’t for 1 hour then try for 10 minutes. Even 1 minute will help you to connect with God. It’s a spiritual exercise that has many benefits at many different levels. Think of it like running. If all you have time for is to run 100m then do it – you body will love the exercise. If you can get out and run a marathon then do that. It will be a different experience but both are worth it.

Let me know how you get along. Am I right – is it really difficult or did you find it easy? What was your experience? Is this an exercise you would encourage others to do? Will you try it again? Leave a comment and don’t forget to subscribe.

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One thing that’s wrong with Crossway’s “Read through the ESV Reader’s Gospels in 30 Days”


Reading the Bible is a good idea. Reading through the Bible in 30 days is a good idea. Getting people to read their Bibles is a good idea. I applaud Crossway on their new Bible, Reader’s Gospel, and I pray that many will use it and find life through it, and the reading plan designed to go with it. And that’s what’s wrong with their reading plan. The purpose of the plan is to tick the box that says you did it – that’s it. They follow the same pattern of most Bible reading plans. Here is what you are to read today. Read it. Tick the box that says you have read it.  Celebrate.

THE problem with their reading plan is it’s purpose. Read your Bible. Tick the box that says you read it.

Doing spiritual exercises for the sake of doing spiritual exercises may, perhaps, if you get lucky, produce Christ-like character. Spiritual exercises are like physical exercises. If you haven’t done any before than anything is good. But aimless exercise won’t sustain you, nor help you long-term, and could actually hurt you if you aren’t really ready for it. If your purpose is to read the gospels in 30 days then at the end of 30 days you get to say, “I read the gospels in 30 days.” How does that help you? If you are a brand new Christian then just like the couch potato that decides to exercise you have a good chance of getting something out of ‘just reading your Bible’. But if you have been a Christian for awhile, if you have read through your Bible before, chances are this exercise will not help you at all. In fact, it will probably put you off consistently reading your Bible because there will be little benefit to doing it. You exercise to get healthier. If you aren’t getting fitter, stronger, faster – you quit.

Intentional exercise for an intentional outcome is always better than a suck and see approach. Those who train with purpose will produce better results.

A better approach is to have a better purpose behind your reading. For example, as you read through the gospels in 30 days ask yourself, “What do I learn about God from this passage?” Answering that question alone will cause you to engage with the passage as you read it. Anyone can read without thinking. Anyone can read a passage and at the end of it not remember a thing they read. So ask a question before you read it and see what it says about that question. Take 30 days, read through the gospels and ask, “What do I learn about God, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit from this passage?” Or perhaps, “What do I learn about people from this passage?”

Here are some other ideas:

  • How does Jesus disciple throughout the gospels?
  • How does Jesus connect with people?
  • How does Jesus teach?
  • Jesus always acts in love, so what does love look like in the gospels?
  • In what ways is this good news to me?
  • How does Jesus live in the grace of God?
  • What does this passage mean for those who in live in the Kingdom of God?
  • What do the gospels talk about the most?
  • Perhaps you might want to read emphatically, through the eyes of someone else.
  • Is there an example I can follow from this passage?
  • How can I apply this passage to my life today?
  • What do I need to change to align my life more to this gospel?
  • What is my response to this passage?
  • What is the writer trying to tell me?

Perhaps you will want to read it empathetically, through the eyes of another person:

  • What hope does this book offer me as a homosexual? How will Christians who believe in this gospel respond to me, a homosexual?
  • I am a refugee arriving in this country. I will encounter Christians. How will they treat me? I am a Muslim.

There are lots of questions you can ask about the gospels that will produce a richer and deeper experience than a “I read the gospels in 30 days – yay”.

I want to encourage you to print out a Bible reading plan and work your way through the gospel section over the next 30 days. On top of the plan write one question you will ask every day as you read through it. Let me know in the comments below what question you ask yourself and don’t forget to subscribe.




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Transformation with this simple change

Last post I posted a “Who am I?” Did you work it out? Scroll down for the answer.


The answer is: Your Habits. Our habits form the essence of who we are. From deep within us our beliefs shape our thoughts which shape our actions which shape our habits which shape our lives. With repeated action the habit of doing becomes stronger and stronger and the thoughts become more and more automatic until one day we wake up and find that we are just doing it, without thought, without conscious decision, without really knowing our underlying belief system.Watch movie online Get Out (2017)

I’m not suggesting this process is a bad one nor is it a good one. It just is. If the belief system is good then the habits will bear positive fruit and if the underlying belief system is evil then the corresponding habits will produce pain. The process itself is neutral. It doesn’t care whether we begin with a positive belief or an evil one.

Many of your habits were not chosen by yourself. Your parents, your school, your friends, your culture all feed into your belief system and your habits were born. For some, taking time everyday to thank God for his goodness was a part of daily family life. For others, no such habit ever existed. If you are still a child then many of your daily routines will be determined by others but there are things you do have control over and I would encourage you to develop habits now. If you are an adult then you have the responsibility to address those habits you don’t like and to develop the habits you do like and want in your life.

Some habits will be so ingrained into your life and so socially acceptable that it will take a very long time to undue them at the core of your being. In the same way that developing new habits may take a long time. The key to developing a habit is to forget the destination and just focus on the next step. If the habit takes 5 years then it will take 5 years. The benefits will be experienced along the way anyway so you might as well get started. Having a fully formed habit just makes the doing of it easier, more automatic. The 5 years are going to come regardless of what you do so you might as well get started and at the end of the time you will have your habit. Of course, many habits can be achieved much sooner than that.

There will be two kinds of habits you will want to work with. The first are those you want to get rid of and the second are those you want to develop. It’s often easier to start with those you want to develop as they have a way of pushing out those that you want to discard. Those habits which you want to get rid of are easy to recognise – they are the ones you don’t want others to know about.

In your journey to becoming more like Jesus what are the 3-4 things that would help you the most? What spiritual disciplines would you like to be a part of your daily life? Over a long time what impact would that spiritual discipline bring to your life?

Here are two ideas in how building habits can make a difference in your life. The first example is memorizing the Bible. If you memorized 1 verse per week then over the span of 10 years you would know over 500 verses. In memorizing you also meditate and for me personally, that makes a huge difference in my life. I know that for many people (myself included) that memorization is tough. Learning 1 verse per week might be unrealistic. From my experience, some verses were easy to memorize (John 11:35) while others too me months and months and months (James 3:1-3). In order to build the habit I don’t set a requirement on the number of verses I MUST learn each week. Instead, my habit is to look at my Bible Memory App on my phone.

Did you notice the habit? It isn’t hours of memorization. It isn’t learning a set number or reviewing a set number. It isn’t even spending 5 minutes per day (I was wrong in suggesting 15 minutes in this post). It’s opening the App on my phone. The reason I do this is for 2 reasons. Firstly, I want the habit of reviewing. If I review each day then I will make progress. If I lock the habit into a number of verses per day or for a set amount of time I risk not doing it especially if I am short on for time or mentally exhausted. The habit can be done very, very easily. Remember, the power of the habit comes in the repetition over time. The small increments all add. The second reason is that mentally it is easier to continue to do something which I am successfully doing. The smallness of the habit makes it too easy to do. I can be in bed about to sleep after a HUGE day and still say, “Oh, quick, open the app, look, yep, done, sleep”. I can do it in less than 60 seconds. Every time I do that I carve out a small chunk in brain pathways which says I am the kind of person who memorizes Scripture. Which is, by the way, the ultimate goal of the habit – to define you.

Let’s take another habit – being quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry. I think if I get the first two right then I will get the third one right too. Needless to say, I am more of the quick to speak slow to listen kind of guys. The goal habit is to listen first and then speak. So the starting place for this habit, is to listen to one conversation per day where I clarify what they said before I say anything I want to say. I only need to do this once to be successful. I want to build daily success to become week and then monthly success. I want my brain to say, “This is what I do.” I want to establish the habit and let the process build the depth.

By having small daily goals the pathway in my brain will easily be laid and the habit will be formed. As the habit takes over the results will come more easily. I could have bigger goals – “In every conversation I will listen first” – but I know I will fail and that failure will lead to discouragement and that discouragement will lead to me quitting. So I make it easy to succeed. I start small and build the habit. Of course, if I choose to listen better in every conversation then that’s a bonus but as far as my brain is concerned, it’s not necessary. Just like doing a 30 minute review of all my verses would be good but the habit of doing something daily is more important.

The key to building habits is resting in the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus has already made you acceptable to the Father. Rest in that. Developing godly habits will make you more like Jesus and enable you to experience more of God’s goodness. Make the effort but don’t let your success (or failure) determine your relationship with God; it doesn’t, Jesus does.


Leave a comment and let me know which habits you are trying and don’t forget to subscribe so that you will get these straight to your inbox.

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You can’t have a bucket bath with a thimble

bucketbathIn an outback camp in Australia, or in many homes in India, where there is little running water and no shower if you want to clean yourself you need to take a bucket bath. You fill a bucket with water (my preference is with warm to hot water) and you take a smaller bucket and you dip the smaller bucket into the bigger bucket and pour the water over your head. Your body gets wet, you soap it up, rub all over, and then repeat the pouring of water over your body to wash it all off. Right there is an image of how we can make progress in our walk with Jesus.

In 1 Timothy 4 Paul gives instruction to Timothy on what it will take for him to be a good minister. At the end of the list of things to do Paul finishes with the encouragement to “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15, ESV) If we are going to see progress in our Christian walk we are going to need to practice and immerse ourselves so that the change can take place. You wouldn’t try having a bucket bath with a thimble – you would never get wet enough to start applying the soap. The progress with a thimble would take far too long for us to even bother. And yet, many times we dabble with spiritual disciplines and never really get wet enough to make a change. For a spiritual breakthrough more may be required.

The idea of practising and immersing may not require a long time but it needs to be an intense time. The reason we get wet in a bucket bath is because we pour enough water on ourselves to get fully wet. The same thing applies spiritually. Perhaps an intense time, a thimbleshort intense time, may be required for a spiritual breakthrough. Having chosen an area you want to change in an all out effort may bring more change in a short period of time than dabbling over a very long period. You might see more progress from an hour a day for a month than dabbling and hoping for change over a year.

The starting point is knowing what you want to change and why you want to change. Having worked that out you now need to sort out which disciplines will help you make that change possible. Perhaps a long slow process will be required but perhaps a shorter, more intense time will work better.

In 2015 we can end the year the same or more like Jesus. While a lot of change will be out of control we can intentionally seek to make progress. Pray it through, talk it through with others, and conduct an experiment and see what kind of progress you could make.

What change would you like to see by the end of 2015? Which approach do you think will work best to bring about the progress you are after?

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I ponder…

The first sermon I heard this year was on Ps 101:2-3a. It was a great sermon based on amazing words. “I will ponder the way that is blameless…I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” These were the first verses I began to memorize for the year. Easy words to read and to say but I have struggled to live them out especially the first three words, “I will ponder”.

Pondering takes time. Pondering isn’t something that can be rushed. There is no microwaving, tweeting, or status updating when it comes to pondering. Pondering is very simple yet extremely complex. But here the Psalmist lays out for us an incredible spiritual discipline that yields amazing results in our effort to be like Jesus. But it takes time.

The simplicity of pondering is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. All you need to do to ponder is to think. It’s that simple. The complexity comes from the depth and width that thinking can take. The better one is at imagining, the better the brainstorming, the better the rehearsing things in your mind and therefore the more complex the pondering can be.

Here’s how it works. First, find an area in your life you want to be less blameless in. That is, what’s an area of growth? If you aren’t sure then take a piece of paper, sit down, ask Jesus to show you all the areas in your life that you could improve in and start writing. Now you know what to work on and the pondering can begin. There are two key things you want to ponder one. The past, that is, how are things not living up to the standards of Jesus. And secondly the future, that is, what would it like if you were more mature in Christ, if you had more of the fruit of the Spirit pulsing through your veins.

Now be careful in these two steps. In the first step, there is no condemnation. Jesus has dealt with the guilt and shame of our sinfulness so this isn’t a time to beat yourself up over your failures. Observe. That’s it. Observe your actions, your feelings, your motivations, your bodily response. But, do not beat yourself up. This is where you are at in your journey, embrace it so that you can move on from it. And don’t ponder here too long. You don’t want to get stuck just thinking of the past. You need to move forward.

And don’t do this alone as you will just get your thinking on the matter. Jesus promises to teach you and guide you through the Holy Spirit so ask for Christ’s wisdom, ask for divine input, seek God’s grace to help you ponder. As you ponder the situation as it is seek the blameless path. What could be different? How could you have responded differently? What would be a better motivation? Are there any attitudes that aren’t quite right? What was the trigger that lead to the sinful offence? If you could change one moment, one split second, what would it be? An attitude? An action? A feeling? How would that have changed the situation?

Once you have the change in your mind then begin to rehearse it over and over again. In the moment of crisis our instincts dictate what we do and how we do it. Once we are angry or afraid it’s too late our emotions and core responses have taken over. Who we are will come out whether we want it to or not. So find that trigger and make the change in your mind and then replay and replay and replay and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. What are your new feelings? What beliefs are running through your mind now? What thoughts are bubbling to the surface? How are you brining the kingdom to bear in this situation? Your response may not be perfect as there are many stepping stones from where we are to Christ but pondering allows to rehearse and practice being closer to Christ than we are right now. Let me give an example.

Recently I was involved in a car crash that led to me punching the guy in the face (it’s a long story). As I pondered the situation with Jesus I realised that the moment I got out of the car and spoke I was already on the wrong path that would not leave me blameless. The first words I spoke to the other guy were, “Why did you try to go around me?” Not a good question. He was in the wrong because he tried to go around the outside of me while I was turning – but there’s the problem, at this moment in time, who cares who is at fault? Do we need to immediately assign blame? Is there are a greater concern at this point than who is wrong and who caused the accide? What I should have said is, “Are you ok?” My immediate response was to assign blame, to make it immediately clear to everyone around that I am the innocent party in this crash. I think a better response is to make sure that people aren’t hurt, that there are no injuries, that I’m more concerned about his health than his guilt. Perhaps the situation would have continued to go south anyway and perhaps I would have ended up punching him (it’s a long story) but I wasn’t blameless in response even before the punch flew. I inflamed a situation, I showed little concern for one made in the image of God, I could have handled it better.

And so I ponder. Knowing the change I want to make I ponder the feelings, I ponder the other person, I ponder the grace I could bestow, I ponder the concern I could demonstrate, I ponder. And as I ponder I allow myself to see who I am right now – no denial. I face my true self in order to change. No guilt. No condemnation for I am in Christ. As I ponder and ponder and ponder I notice a shift in my thinking, my feelings, my behaviour in my mind. I notice my response move from assigning blame to seeing the other driver as one made in the image of God deserving great concern. The feelings and response become easier in mind. The real test of our course will be my next accident. Luckily, living in India means that it won’t be too long before I get another chance to test my growth. But there are hints that the difference is seeping through into my real world.

The way I am responding to my children when they do something wrong is changing. The way I respond to interruptions is changing. The way I talk to myself when I make a mistake is changing. The pondering of one event is impacting other events and that’s the power of pondering and the power of growth. Growth in one area of our lives leads to growth in others. And pondering is a wonderful spiritual discipline that can help us to grow in Christ.

Have you tried pondering? How has it worked it for you? I’d like to hear your story on how pondering has helped you change.

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The challenge of pondering is that it takes time and mental energy. It’s difficult to live a fast paced life and be still enough to ponder but this discipline more than pays for itself in the time and energy you give it.



Filed under Spiritual Disciplines

Is this just for children?

BibleIn many churches I visit the children will stand up and recite Bible verses they have memorized. I’m yet to see the adults do that. Is it because they have outgrown the discipline of memorizing Bible verses? I hope not. Memorizing Bible verses is incredibly helpful in our spiritual growth. As a casual observer I think this discipline isn’t utilized nearly enough in our spiritual development. Perhaps it’s because it’s too hard, perhaps it’s because you don’t think you can. I am yet to meet someone who, having put in the effort, can’t learn verses. For me, there are two main reasons why I do it.

Firstly, I struggle to memorize a passage that I’m not living out. I know this isn’t the case for everyone but I really, really struggle to memorize what I’m not living. When I was first married it took me months to memorize James 4:1-3. Six months to learn 3 verses; 60 words took me 180 days. I was diligent with the discipline but nothing would stick. Everyday I would try but I struggled and struggled for 6 months. But at the end of 6 months I owned the arguments we had. I took ownership of my motivations in our quarrels. Those verses laid down a pattern of listening to each other that has tremendously helped in our relationship. When I get stuck on a verse I know I need to grow in that area. Memorizing Scripture helps me to see my blind spots.

The second reason is that it forces me to meditate. Memorizing Scripture is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work to memorize a verse. It takes a lot of repetition. That repetition forces my brain to think about what I’m memorizing. The act of memorizing forces me to meditate on the verses because I’m going over the verse again and again and again. My mind churns the verse over not just while I’m sitting down intentionally trying to memorize it but at other times too. It’s this meditation that leads to me applying the verse to my life, seeing the nuances of how my life is not in sync with what I’m reading.

I guess the two reasons could be summed up in one – memorizing Scripture makes me a better person. It transforms me. I change when I internalize Scripture in my mind and, through meditation, in my heart. I change. That’s my motivation.

I use an app called RememberMe. Whatever gadget you have you can download it for free here. I also have a notepad where I like to write the letter of each word as a shorthand of writing it out to see if I remember. To be honest I only use the app as a repository of the verses I’m memorizing and because it follows spaced repetition so I don’t have to worry about when I’m supposed to revise the verse. Spaced repetition just means that the verses you find easy will be revised at a later time (say in 10 days time) and a verse you are struggling with sooner (say, tomorrow). It means that you spend more time with verses you are struggling with. With that said, I am find myself using more of the features of the app that aid in memorization. There are lots of apps you can use, including the traditional pen and paper, so choose one and start memorizing.

If you are looking for some memorization techniques, here is a great site with lots of memory ideas.

If you are starting out try one verse. If you are used to memorizing single verses try a passage or chapter. Give yourself 10-15 minutes per day. It doesn’t need to be consecutive minutes. You can steal 5 minutes here or there two to three times throughout the day. The time is really not a factor – let’s be honest about that. The greatest challenge is doing it every day. The daily discipline is tough but it’s well worth it. Each day you will grow, a little bit here, a little bit there. But it all adds up. And one day, in the midst of an argument with your wife the verses will come to your mind and you will see clearly your motivation for the argument, your selfish motivation, your desire to get what you want without regard for the other, and you stop arguing, and you listen, and your wife is happy, and so are you.

Currently I’m memorizing, very slowly, Colossians 3:1-21. How about you? What are you working through? What do you find difficult about memorizing Scripture? What’s your motivation? What benefits have you gained from memorizing verses?

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Filed under Grow, Spiritual Disciplines