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Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Spiritual Discipline of Prayer

June's Spiritual Discipline is the Inward Discipline of Prayer. In The Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Richard Foster labels prayer as the most central discipline. Solitude and Silence enable us to listen to God, which is part of prayer. Worship allows us to praise God, which is also part of prayer. Guidance involves seeking God's voice when we come to crossroads and decisions, which is tied to prayer. Meditation, Confession, and Celebration are aspects of prayer. So even though prayer is the sixth Spiritual Discipline we're looking at, we have already touched on it and we will continue to touch on it for the rest of this year.

When we pray, we open ourselves up to God so that He can change us into more Christ-like disciples. Foster states that in prayer, we should think God's thoughts after Him. We put ourselves in sync with Him as our desires, loves, and wills fall in line with His.

Prayer is a Spiritual Discipline that has been practiced for millennia. There are many different ways to pray that have been practice over the centuries.

Some practice fixed-hour prayers. Traditionally, people have prayed at dawn (six), nine, twelve, three, six, nine, and midnight (12). Others practice a modified schedule by praying morning, noon, and night.

There are stories of spiritual "giants" both in the Bible and throughout our history. If we don't measure up to their examples, we can rest assured that God will meet us where we can start and move us closer to Him each day.

Foster touches on the many types of prayer that could be studied and practiced. These include discursive prayers, mental prayers, centering prayers, prayers of quiet, prayers of relinquishment, prayers of guidance, intercessory prayers, among others. Foster elects to focus on intercessory prayers and teaching us how to pray for others.

We pray for others by learning what God wills in a situation and then praying for that to come about. There is a time and a prayer to seek God's will and surround ours, but an intercessory prayer is a prayer interceding to God, on a person's behalf.

We pray for others while expecting God to move in the situation. Foster tells us that we should pray "with an expectation that a change should and would occur". If we pray and don't see results, we should reexamine if we are praying correctly. Are we praying with wrong motives? Do we need to change something within us as we intercede? Do we need to study prayer more and learn more principles on how to pray? Do we need to persistently and patiently pray? Are we in contact with God when we pray? Sometimes, we jump into praying without taking the time to connect to God.

We pray for others by quieting ourselves and listening to God. Listening to God must come before we can intercede. We need the prayer of guidance to go before and surround our prayers of faith asking God to intercede. Foster notes that we need to hear God's will, know God's will, and obey it ourselves before we can pray it into others' lives.

Foster recommends that we start to pray for small things first. There is a time and a place to pray big prayers, but we need to understand who God is and how He chooses to operate first. Then as we learn about Him, we are better able to pray for bigger and bigger things.

Our prayers should be rooted in compassion for others. This compassion will drive us to pray for others and will strengthen our faith as we get in touch with how God wants us to pray.

We should pray as a child asking their father. Children generally trust their parents and feel free to bring their requests to their parents. In meditation, imagination can be used as a tool, and Foster points out that we can use imagination in our prayers too. We can pray blessings over children.

Our goal in studying the Spiritual Discipline of Prayer is to make each moment and thought a prayer to God. We don't have to withdraw from the world in order to properly pray. We can pray for the people we see and those we hear in passing. We can cook, work, and play in an attitude of prayerful listening.

We should pray against evil. The Bible teaches us to pray to withstand the onslaught of the devil's attacks. We can pray for Christ and His power to surround and protect us and those around us.

Foster concludes by noting that we shouldn't wait to pray until we "feel" like it, but like other mandatory tasks (including household chores and work), we don't always feel like starting, but discipline can give us the push to start and our emotions will get in line as we continue.

So how do I plan to apply this discipline? I'll pray along with the saints of old, by using a book of common prayer throughout the day. I'll create space for silence to listen to God and for worship music to assist me in praising God.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Spiritual Disciplines of Solitude and Silence

May brings me back to the Outward Disciplines. This month's Discipline is actually two Disciplines, closely interwoven together: Solitude and Silence.

In The Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Richard Foster takes time to differentiate between loneliness (which he defines as inner emptiness) and solitude (which he defines as inner fulfillment). Solitude isn't so much a place without others, but rather, it is a state that the heart and mind achieves regardless of the presence (or lack thereof) of people.

When the Discipline of Solitude is being practiced, we do not dread being alone, because we know that we are not truly, fully alone. We also don't fear being with or around other people, because we are not controlled by them. Solitude allows our hearts to rest in inner silence, even when there is noise and confusion around us.

It may seem that Solitude and Silence are better suited to be classed as Inward Disciplines, but these Inward Disciplines has crucial outward displays. In these Disciplines, we are better able to hear the Spirit speaking to and through us.

Jesus regularly sought out solitary places to meet with God. We, as His disciples, should follow His example.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had instructions on spending "The Day Together" and spending "The Day Alone". We need both of these days in our lives. We all tend to lean naturally towards one or the other, Community or Solitude, but when we stay fully in one camp, we are unbalanced. This Discipline is about intentionally creating Silence and Solitude so that we can more fully be in fellowship with each other.

Silence on my part frees me up to listen. My husband made the distinction between silence and quietness. I am, by my nature, a naturally quiet person, but the absence of loudness on my part doesn't automatically mean that I am listening to God. I can be off daydreaming and planning quietly, but silence involves listening to God.

Silence and Solitude are so closely intertwined together, that they must be studied and applied together. These Disciplines are to teach us to see and to hear. Foster goes on to say that controlling when we speak is the heart of the Discipline of Silence. We don't need to be 100% silent. We don't need to take a vow not to speak for the duration of Lent. These Disciplines are about learning when to be silent and when to speak. As we discipline our minds, bodies, and spirits, we gain the ability of being able to "do what needs to be done when it needs to be done." If we speak instead of cultivating silence, when silence is needed, we were unsuccessful. If we stay silent when the Spirit prompts us to speak, we were unsuccessful. Solitude and Silence are about learning to speak when the Spirit prompts us to speak and staying silent when the Spirit asks for silence.

This is a hard Discipline to undertake, because we want to make sure that we and our intentions are understood correctly. We want to control how people view and understand us. Silence is also tied to Trust. Do we trust that God will manage the situations we are in, with or without our help? This is a tricky discipline, because instead of relying on self-justification, we are stepping back and allowing God to do the justifying for us.

When we learn to be silent, then we will better be able to speak the necessary words at the correct time.

When we practice this Discipline, may disciples go through "the dark night of the soul," to borrow the phrase from St. John of the Cross. This dark night is a period characterized by words such as: Dry. Alone. Lost. Ready to sign up for this field trip? It is about stripping off unnecessary and distracting things so we can give God the space to transform us. Far too often, God's still, small voice is drowned out by all the noise and chatter we are tuned into. God uses the dark night to silence all the other distractions around us. In the silence and the stillness, we meet with God.

If possible, Foster recommends going to a "desert place" for this season, but if we must continue with our daily tasks, we can still keep Silence and Solitude in our hearts as we work and as we still ourselves before God.

As this chapter draws to a close, Foster touches on practical ways that we can practice Solitude and Silence, even in the busyness of regular life.
*We can be silent in the brief moments that come up throughout our days. Just because we can't be alone in the desert for days or weeks, doesn't mean that we can't use the hours and minutes available to us to cultivate silence.
*We can cultivate the "little solitudes" that naturally come up through out our days. Times when we are alone. Times when we can be silent.
*We can pray silently before a meal instead of out-loud.
*We can set aside a room, or even just a chair, in our homes where one can be silent and seek solitude.
*We can seek out places outside of our homes to be still and silent before God.
*We can practice doing good deeds and actions without justifying or explaining ourselves. Watch ourselves as we move from fearing that we will be misunderstood to trusting God to justify when necessary.
*We can practice saying less, even while we say more important things.
*We can do what we say we will do, without flowery speeches or elaborate promises.
*We can try to go a day without speaking. This allows us to see what other ways we can communicate. Treat this day as a learning exercise.
*We can take 3-4 hours, at 4 different times throughout the year, to get away and plan, dream, and write out our goals. Look at 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals. Re-evaluate and update these plans as life changes. Journal this experience. Ask God how you can join in His work and what gifts He gave you that you should develop.
*We can go on retreats to study, but try to take at least one retreat each year to practice Solitude and Silence.

As we cultivate these Disciplines, we are more in tune to what God is showing us about the people around us.

These Disciplines of Solitude and Silence will not be the easiest Disciplines to master, but they will be worthwhile.