How To Become Silent Before God

The other week I wrote about Lectio Divina. One of my favorite ways to go deeper with the Bible. In that post, I made the point that if you want to hear from God, you have to learn to be silent before God. But I never actually described how a person becomes silent before God. And the truth is, being silent before God is actually quite hard. Maybe you have noticed this.

Because by quiet, I don’t mean just siting before God without talking. Though let’s be honest even that is hard enough sometimes. No, by quite I mean, quite in your soul, and in your mind. It is to “Be still…”. (Ps. 46:10).

Quiet before God is when you have no burdens weighing you down. No thoughts racing through your mind. No stress inside of you. When you are quiet before God there is a sense of feeling empty. But a good empty. An empty like a drinking glass is empty just before it is filled with water. An emptiness that is ready to be filled with the living presence of God.

So how does one actually enter into this kind of silence before God?

 “palms down palms up”

One method, which has most helped me, is what Richard Foster calls “palms down palms up”. He writes,

“Begin by placing palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray ‘Lord, I give to you my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month. I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight.’ Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say, ‘palms down.’ Release it. You may even feel a certain sense of release in your hands. After several moment of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Perhaps you will pray silently: ‘Lord, I would like to receive your divine love for John, your peace about the dentist appointment, your patience, your joy.’ Whatever you need, you say ‘palms up.’ Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence. Do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you. If impressions or directions come, fine; if not fine.”[1]

Over the years I have added variations to this “palms down palms up”. Usually when I want to be silent before God I start with my hands out in front of me in a pushing position. Then every time I confess something that is on my mind I imagine that I am pushing it away from me and toward Jesus. Then I imagine Jesus literally taking each of my burdens. I do this until I can’t think of anything else to give over to Jesus—until I feel quiet and empty. Only then do I turn over my palms, and receive the gift God has for me.

For me “palms down palms up” (or some variation of it) has been the most effective way for me to enter into silence before God, in preparation to hear from God. I pray it works just as well for you too. If you’re interested in other Christian practices that have long helped people enter into the presence of God, I would highly recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

 

[1] Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth 30-31

Going Deeper With The Bible

At some point reading your Bible becomes boring. You know all the stories. You’re familiar with the popular verses. And you have a pretty good sense of what the whole thing is about.

You begin to wonder, “now what?” “Am I doomed to a life of begrudgingly re-reading the same things year after year? Or is there something more?”

Thankfully there is more– a lot more!

If you’ve only been reading the Bible,  you may have given yourself a breadth of biblical  knowledge. But what you lack is depth. Likely your boredom with Bible reading is the Holy Spirit’s way of telling you that your soul is ready for something more. That you need something deeper.

One of my favorite ways to go deeper,  is a method of Bible reading called Lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-oh di-vee-nuh).  It means “divine reading”. For over 1, 500 years Christians have practiced it in order to hear from God, and draw closer to Christ.

Here’s how it works:780px-Lectio_Divina_.svg

Dr. Richard Peace, professor of Spiritual Formation,  describes it as a four-part movement “beginning with the the text and ending in prayer.” [1]   The four movements are as follows:

Reading/Listening: Read aloud a short passage Scripture. As you read, listen for the word or phrase that speaks to you. What is the Spirit drawing your attention to?

Meditating: Repeat aloud the word or phrase to which you are drawn. Make connection between it and your life. What is God saying to you by means of this word or phrase?

Praying: Now take these thoughts and offer them back to God in prayer, giving thanks, asking for guidance, asking for forgiveness, and resting in God’s love. What is God leading you to pray?

Contemplating: Move from the activity of prayer to the stillness of contemplation. Simply rest in God’s presence. Stay open to God. Listen to God. Remain in peace and silence before God. How is God revealing himself to you?

 Lectio divina is more than a  simple “quiet time”. It takes intentionally getting to a quiet place with no distractions. It also takes practice. Learning to listen to God, is like learning how to use a new muscle. There’s nothing “magical” about it. But it won’t happen until you’re able to sit still, and be silent before God.

If you want to learn more about the practice of Lectio divina, I would start with a copy of Richard Peace’s Contemplative Bible Reading: Experiencing God Through Scripture. It is a short Bible Study handbook that provides more detail about the four movements. It also includes examples of how the process works with different passages of Scripture. The study can be used for an individual or groups. So if your currently in a small group and you think your group might also be interested in going deeper with the Bible, then this might be a great study to do together.

Whether you use Lectio divina by yourself or with a group, I pray it will be something that will draw you deeper into the Word of God, and closer to God through Jesus Christ.

 

 


How To Help Students Stop Sinning

Don’t do this! Work harder to do this!

Is our job as pastors, parents, and youth leaders, just to help students stop sinning?

It can often feel that way.stop sign

But ask yourself, what’s the point of telling a student not to sin? Even if they stop with one sin, aren’t they just going to commit another sin later?

What then, should we do?

Should we just give up encouraging students to live moral lives? Should we not tell them what the Bible says about sin and its consequences? Of course not.

But what we should do, is help students understand why they sin in the first place.

James 1:14 says “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

Sin happens when we try to meet a good desire in the wrong way.

When I was in 5th grade a friend of mine introduce me to pornography. I’d like to say I ran the other way, and never looked back. But I didn’t. I looked, and I looked a lot. But the reason I looked was not because I wanted to rebel against God or my parents, or do something that was wrong. I looked because I desperately wanted my friend to like me. I looked because I had a deep desire to be wanted. And in those moments that desire was fulfilled. I was accepted by my friend, and I felt wanted. My problem was not that I liked pornography, my problem was that my heart was empty.

I have been in some kind of pastoral role to students for over ten years now. And I have often thought about what I as a student needed back then to change my behavior. I know without a doubt that I did not need someone to tell me to stop, or show me from the Bible how pornography was wrong. I had been a Christian since I was four– I knew all that. What I did need was someone to help me understand what was behind my sin. And then how Jesus could help me.

G. K. Chesterton is attributed with saying “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” I believe more and more everyday these words are true.

I still have the desire to be wanted. But unlike my fifth grade self, I now know the right way to have that desire met. His name is Jesus Christ. And there is no desire he cannot abundantly meet. His love is often made tangible through his body, Christians, like my wife, accountability partners, family, and friends. But it is his love meeting my desires that has, and will, keep me free from such sin.

The best thing we as pastors, parents, and youth leaders can do for students, is not to help them stop sinning. Because, life is not just about not sinning.

Rather, the best thing we as pastors, parents, and youth leaders can do, is to help students identify their deepest God-given desires. And then, show them how Jesus can abundantly fulfill them. When this happens they will know the love of Jesus and his body (the church), and the temptation to sin will take care of its self.

David Platt on American Idols

When we think of worshiping idols and false gods, we often picture Asian people buying carved images of wood, stone, or gold or African tribes performing ritualistic dances around burning sacrifices. But we don’t consider the American man looking at pornographic pictures online or watching ungodly television shows and movies. We don’t think about the American woman incessantly shopping for more possessions or obsessively consumed with the way she looks. We don’t take in to account men and women in the Western world constantly enamored with money and blindly engulfed in materialism. We hardly even think about our busy efforts to climb the corporate ladder, our incessant worship of sports, our temper when things don’t go our way, our worries that things won’t go our way, our overeating, our excesses, and all sorts of other worldly indulgences.

330px-American_Idol_logo.svg

Maybe the most dangerous of all, we overlook the spiritual self-achievement and religious-righteousness that prevents scores of us from ever recognizing our need for Christ. We can’t fathom a Christian on the other side of the world believing that a wooden god can save them, but we have no problem believing that religion, money, possessions, food, fame, sex, sports, status, and success can satisfy us. Do we actually think that we have fewer idols to let go of in our repentance?

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt from David Platt’s Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live.

How The Big Bang Proves The Existence of God

Last week scientists discovered evidence which confirms the Big Bang theory. You can read all about it here.

And articles like this one, have pointed out, evidence for the Big Bang is evidence for the existence of God.

How so?

Say hello to the Cosmological Argument.  It’s an argument that originated with medieval Muslim thinkers, but was made famous by a Christian theologian name Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274). The basic argument goes like this:

  1. Whatever begin to exist has a cause
  2. The universe begin to exists
  3. Therefore it has cause

As you can see if the Big Bang theory is true, then there is a definite beginning to the universe. That in turn means that there had to be a definite cause to that beginning. The question is what was that cause, which caused the beginning of the universe?

For Christians the answers seems obvious, the cause which caused the Big Bang and therefore the beginning of the universe was God.  The first line in the Bible says just that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth“. But why couldn’t the beginning of the universe be caused by say another universe, or something other than a personal Creator God?

To find that out watch this short video.

Three Things You Should Expect From Your Church Elders

At Fellowship we’re gearing up for another church membership class. This is a great opportunity for attenders of our church to take the next step on the Path of Discipleship. And move from church attender to committed member. Now often when pastors talk about church membership we talk about expectations for our church members. But today I want to flip the conversation, and talk about what members should expect of church Elders[1]. Here are at least three things which every church member should expect from their Elders:

Soul Care– Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

As a church member you should expect your church leaders to keep watch over your soul.  In fact, this job is so significant that each Elder will have to give an account to God about how they did.  What does soul care look like? At least three things. (1) Elders should help you grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. (2) Elders should encourage and offer counsel to you when you are burdened by the things of this world. (3) Elders should protect you from the lies, deceptions, and evils which keep you from having joy in Jesus.  In short, Elders should care for your soul by teaching, encouraging, counseling, and supporting you, in every area of your life.

Now as much as Elders (myself included) would like to give this kind of care to every person we meet, the truth is it is just not possible.  But as a church member, you have made a public statement saying “I want my soul to be cared for by the leaders of this church.” Therefore, you can and should expect to have the priority of such care.

Tangible Acts of Love- 1 Timothy 3:2 says, “Therefore an overseer must be… hospitable… “

Hospitality is a lost art in our culture. But the Bible is clear an overseer (that is a church Elder) must be hospitable. Why is hospitality an necessary quality of Eldership? Because hospitality is a tangible expression of love for one another. To be hospitable is to open not only our homes to others, but our lives as well. It is to no longer minster to someone at arm’s length, but instead to bring them in close and  show them love.

Again, this isn’t something Elders can do for everyone. But if you are a church member, then you have committed to be a part of our family, and so in turn we commit to you. And one way we commit to you is by loving you in real tangible ways, like being hospitable. So as a church member you should expect your Elders to invite you into their lives and into their homes, as a way of showing you love.

Equipping– Ephesians 4:11-12 says,  “ And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,…”

Elders fall under the categories of shepherds and teachers. But like the job of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists, our job is “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry”. What does this mean? First, it means our job is to help you grasp deeply the truth and power of the Gospel for your life. Then, help you understand how to rightly handle the Word of God. Next, we should help you discover your spiritual gifts. And finally, we should help you find a context for using those gifts to serve others.

Equipping the saints is something I’m passionate about. But it is a really big job, even in a not-so-big church.  Thus, it is not something that I or any other Elder can do for just anyone who comes to one of our ministry programs or who visits our church.  But if you’re a church member, then you are our target audience. And you can and should expect for us to equip you for the work of the ministry.

I’ll be honest as I look over the above three expectations I get a little nervous. Because as a pastor I’m reminded just how significant my job is, and at the same time just how often I fall short of meeting these expectations. And of course the above list isn’t even complete–there are still more expectations I could have added.  But despite my weaknesses, I still want to encourage every church member to expect these things from me and every other church Elder.

We might not complete our work with perfection (that’s why we too need soul care, love, and equipping as well). But even so, this is the job Christ has given us to do, and so you should expect us to do it.


[1] For Presbyterians, Pastors are also Elders.

Matt Chandler- Is Church Membership Biblical?

I was 28 when I became the pastor of Highland Village First Baptist Church (now known as The Village Church). I had had a rough go early on in my church experience, and at that time I was not fully out of my “disenchanted with the local church” phase.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure at the time that church membership was biblical. Despite that, the Spirit had made it all too clear that I was going to be pastoring this small church in the suburbs of Dallas. That was one of the many ironies of my life in those days.

Read the rest here