Category Archives: seven minutes

Spiritual Rhythms: The Word, part I

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Before my wife and I were married, I spent a summer in Europe while she remained in California. In those long-past days before email and cell phones, at a time when international calling was expensive and minimum wage was a fraction of what it is now, the primary way we communicated was through letters; our words would be read days, if not weeks, after they’d been written.

Growing in relationship with God demands that we read his words—his Word. 

If you want to know God, you need to read his word to his people—that is, the Bible. Seems easy enough, but considering that the Bible contains sixty-six individual books written by dozens of human authors over a period of some 1,500 years—the most recent being roughly 2,000 years old—the natural question is, where to begin?

Many people say you should start with the book of John, or perhaps one of the other four narratives of Jesus’ life: Matthew, Mark, or Luke. But if you’re new to the Bible, then I suggest following Fräulein Maria’s advice from The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning”—Genesis and Exodus. You see, Jesus was a Jew, and Genesis tells the story of the beginning of the Jewish people. And since Jesus came as a sacrifice to save people from sin, Exodus—the story of God saving the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt—lays the foundation for Jesus’ sacrificial life and death. Then read John. Or Matthew, which was written to a primarily Jewish audience.

But another question to ask is, how do I read the Bible? The Bible is unlike any other book you have ever read. It is an anthology of sorts, with each individual book telling a complete story; yet the collection as a whole also tells a complete story, and each book contains a part of that broader story. Perhaps the best way to answer the question, how do I read the Bible?, is this: Read it the same way you would see the country. The whole country. What country? Yours or mine, whether the United States or Nigeria or India.

If you want to see the whole country, you will need to do it in different ways at different times. At times you will fly over from one corner to another; you’ll only get 35,000-foot glimpses of most of the land, but you’ll see it from a unique perspective. Other times you’ll take a car; you’ll see more than flying—mountains and rivers, deserts and oceans, cities and vast spaces of empty land—but most will still be zooming past at sixty miles per hour.

Then there are times you will just walk. You’ll never get out of the city or the forest or the desert, or wherever you started walking, but you’ll see the details; you can sit for hours on a beach and watch the tide slowly roll in, covering the rocks and tide pools you explored earlier in the day; you’ll gaze in awestruck wonder at the intricacies of a rose just before it bursts into bloom.

Reading the Bible is like that. You’ll be reading of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, then fly back to the first Passover meal in Exodus. Or you’ll read the entire book of Romans in one sitting and you’ll see the changing topography of Paul’s treatise. And sometimes you’ll sit and soak in the creative beauty of a single verse or a paragraph, turning each word over in your mind like a rosebud between your fingers.

We’ll explore this more in future posts. For now, though, decide where and how you want to begin, then begin. If you’re just getting started, set yourself a reachable goal: read 5-10 minutes a day, three days a week.

Spiritual Rhythms

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Growth happens naturally, but healthy growth takes planning.

Once we learn to walk and feed ourselves, we can pretty much go anywhere and eat anything we want. Fortunately, God gave us parents to keep us from running away and living on Twinkies!

Like physical growth, healthy spiritual growth takes planning. Unfortunately, we don’t always have spiritual parents to help us grow into healthy, fruitful spiritual adults.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be a spiritual dad and write about the spiritual rhythms that make growth possible. Historically, these have been called spiritual disciplines. It’s a good but sometimes scary term, which is why I use the word rhythms instead. You can also think of them as predictable patterns or simple, repeatable patterns.

Spiritual rhythms fall into two broad categories: things to do and things to stop doing; add and subtract; commit and omit.

Each week, I’ll post about two rhythms. On Mondays, I’ll write about an add rhythm and on Thursdays, about a subtract rhythm. If these are new to you, then a week won’t be enough time to cement a new habit. Don’t worry about that; when you find something that works, stick with it long enough that you’ll miss it if you stop. That probably means three weeks or more.

Here’s a look at where we’re going:

Spiritual Rhythms

Be sure to sign up to get these posts emailed to you each week. If other practices come to mind, I’ll add those; if there are any that have been particularly helpful to you, let me know. Wherever possible, I’ll also offer links and recommendations to helpful resources.

Take A Break

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One week. 400 miles. Seven schools. Eight assemblies. Three evening programs. Three morning services. One four-hour class. Back-to-school night. Date night. Whew!!
For the first time in too long, I took a breather this morning. I opened my Bible to the Psalms of Ascents—those psalms that ancient Israelites would sing on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the annual feasts; psalms that called reminded them of God’s presence, his power, his protection…even their unfaithfulness to him. I was drawn to Psalm 121, the second in this collection:

      I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

      My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

This morning, I needed to lift up my eyes to the Lord, the source of my help and energy. I was reminded of Jesus’ habit of going off by himself, whether late at night or early in the morning, to spend time with his Father. I don’t do that enough—or well. Those times were not only rejuvenating for him, they also kept him focused on his priorities.

In the first chapter of the gospel according to Mark, we get a glimpse into what I expect was a typical day in Jesus’ life. He comes into a town (Capernaum, verse 21) on the Sabbath and goes into the synagogue to teach. While there, a man with an unclean spirit comes in, whom Jesus proceeds to heal. Afterward, Jesus goes over to his friend Simon’s (for lunch and a nap, perhaps?), where he finds Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. He heals her. By evening, Simon’s front porch is crowded with the town’s sick and demon-possessed—just the kind of folks you want hanging around the neighborhood, right?! In fact, Mark says, “the whole city was gathered together at the door.” (Mark 1:34) And Jesus, being Jesus, heals them. He casts out a bunch of demons. And then, presumably, he goes to bed.

Early the next morning, Jesus gets up, gets out of town, and prays. This is where it gets hard, particularly for those of us who are doers. The teaching, the healings—those aren’t the hard things; we thrive on the action and, yes, on the attention and affirmation they bring. And they’re good things, important things, even God-honoring things. But Jesus knows what is too easy for me to overlook: the power to do those good and important works comes from the Father, and the power comes through a relationship with him. Not from doing things for him, but from being with him. So Jesus gets alone and prays.

As if this isn’t hard enough, this getting quiet with God, what comes next is almost as amazing to me. Simon and some others track down Jesus and tell him, “Everyone is looking for you.” Undoubtedly, many of the previous evening’s healed patients had gone and told their friends, who gathered in the breaking dawn on Simon’s porch. Some undoubtedly wanted to be healed, but I suspect that many more just wanted to see a healing for themselves. And Jesus’ shocking response is, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

Did he really say that? Did Jesus—the loving, compassionate, healing son of God—just turn his back on sick people desperate to be made well? Yes. You see, Jesus knew what his mission was: to proclaim the kingdom of God. More than once, Jesus healed for the express purpose of glorifying God (see, for example, John 9). He healed out of compassion and in response to expressions of faith (see Mark 5:25-34). But Jesus’ primary purpose was not to heal; it was to proclaim. Even his great prophecy-fulfilling claim in Luke 4:16ff (cf. Isaiah 61) is not primarily about showing compassion; it is about proclaiming good news.

And so, after a hectic day of teaching and healing, woke early, got alone, and prayed. The time alone with his Father helped him focus on his mission and rejuvenated him for the days ahead: more healings, more people clamoring for a piece of him, more people wanting more from him than just the truth.

Our days are busy and hectic. Work, kids, school, chores, spouse…all clamor for a piece of us until we feel we need to run away screaming! But don’t wait that long. Get some time away where you can be quiet before God and just soak in his presence. It’s not always easy, especially if you’re not in the habit. You may need to start small: seven minutes in the car before you walk into work; or thirty minutes in a coffee shop once a week. Read Psalm 121 (or Psalm 131—it’s even shorter!) and reflect on God’s help. Lift your eyes and heart to God.

Then do it again. Tomorrow, the next day, next week (but don’t wait too long). Make it a habit. Get time alone, quietly, regularly, with God. Soon seven minutes will not be long enough; once a week will not be often enough. But I know that as you do this, you will become refreshed and will be able to refocus on what God has in store for you.