Life With God 8

imageThe life with God drives us to see what  could happen we are faithful doers of the Word rather than just hearers. As Foster begins to wind down his book Life With God, he is emphasizing the ‘why’ of spiritual transformation. He says that “ the quiet power of a life transformed by God is so explosive that it can redirect the course of human events.” When we are deeply enmeshed in a life lived in the immediate and intimate presence of God, we find ourselves with transformed inclinations. Our purposes are driven less and less by personal desire and worldly avarice and more by the subtle whispers that guide our fulfillment of God’s purposes through us.

Coming to this spiritual awareness is the purpose of the spiritual disciplines. Remember, the definition of discipline that we apply to our spiritual nature is the ability to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason. The spiritual practices are not intended for record keeping, that is, we are not rewarded by the measure of their exertion. Rather, the reward for the practice of spiritual disciplines comes in an increased sensitivity to the words of God through which He moves you to action. As Dallas Willard says, we are being prepared to enter a state of unthinking readiness in which we are able to respond despite pressures from outside to act otherwise. When the moment of action arrives, we  move in the Spirit without having to consider the possible societal implications of doing so.

There is a liberating truth that we can come to understand through study and focus on the lives of the saints that have gone before us such as John Woolman (pictured above.) The truth is that we do not become godly by trying to become godly. We become godly as our worldly habits are replaced by holy habits such as love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness. When our character is filled with these traits we will instinctively do the right thing at the right time for the right reason. Our practice of the Disciplines is not intended to change ourselves, that is God’s work. Rather, our practice is intended to open ourselves to His power so that the transformation may occur. This is the principle of indirection.

This principle works by addressing human character issues by attending purposely to the attending spiritual virtue. For example, pride is overcome by intentionally seeking out opportunities to serve others. Over time, this consistent practice puts us in a proper relationship with others, engendering humility within us. Paul mentions this intentional training in 1 Corinthians;

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24-27)

We do not train in the Spiritual Disciplines solely for the sake of training. We train for transformation. The key to this shift in our understanding is to remember that it is God that will provide the transformation, not our own efforts. We must become expectant of the change, sensitive to His whispers that slightly change our mechanics as a coach would do. All of our training and the resulting transformation of our character will reorient us for life in the kingdom of God and our thoughts and attitudes and our behaviors will gradually become radically different from what passes for normal in this world.

Now, that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

Life With God 7

Richard Foster takes a turn now in Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation’ target=_blank>Life With God to examine the means by which we immerse ourselves in the presence of God. If you are familiar with his earlier classic Celebration of Discipline, this chapter rehearses familiar territory. As each preceding chapter in LWG have led us to see how the mining of the scriptures contribute to an ever deepening acknowledgement of the presence of God, Foster now turns our attention to additional spiritual practices that contribute to strength and trust needed to wade into the deeper waters of a with God life.

For the Christian who has surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, whether it is realized or not, you are already given to life in the presence of God. As Peter wrote:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)

we have life and tools to live it in full but it is required of us that we nurture the intention. Rather than simply applying the transformation that God intends, He expects us to know the struggle and joy of the process of transformation. This striving and participation in the process teaches us lessons in holiness that we could not garner from an immediate transformation.

Practicing the spiritual disciplines is not without risk. The narrow path of the disciplined walk is flanked on both sides by temptations which threaten the integrity of the exercises. On one side, we run the risk of turning the discipline we choose into an end rather than a means. The Pharisees and Sadducees were well known for distorting the Law in this fashion. On the other slope lies the danger of devaluing the disciplines based on the false argument that no work can earn our righteousness, it is freely given. As with most distortions, this argument contains a grain of truth; we cannot earn our righteousness. But grace requires something from us in order to do its transforming work. The spiritual disciplines are the means to this end.

The spiritual disciplines are not onerous or unattainable. They do not enslave us even the term discipline can often take this connotation. The spiritual disciplines lead us on the path to true liberty in Christ as we experience the transformation that he intends to be measured out especially for each one of us. You’re invited into the deep waters. God will be there, all around, supporting you while allowing you to build the muscles needed to swim.

Life With God 6

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb 10:24 – 25

The third component of the trio of intentional approaches to reading the Bible proposed by Richard Foster in Life With God is the practice of reading with the people of God. In tandem with reading the Bible with our hearts and minds, the fullness of spiritual formation is realized when we bring to bear the experiences of the whole of the Christian community on our reading practices. We do not stand alone as followers of Christ, we are members of an extended family who can be enriched by seeing the truths of the Bible through the passions and perspectives of others. We read through the experiences of others, knowing their stories and immersing ourselves in their lives.

The Christian community has recognized the value of reading together throughout its history. We have all benefitted from the lives of others as we are cognizant that we are all in this life together. Korean believers teach us about prayer, the persecuted church enriches our perspective on faithful endurance, and Africans offer their unique perspective reconciliation. These are among the experiences that contribute to our understanding of the kingdom message and aid in our spiritual transformation as their reality puts meat to the bones of the experiences in the pages of our bible. These experiences are conveyed through a number of traditions that are seen through the centuries.

The Contemplative Tradition

Christians have a long history of reaching into the deep well of God’s grace through a prayer filled life. The more time we spend in the presence of God in prayer the greater extent to which His grace and goodness will permeate our lives. Like the others, prayer is but one component of whole of Christian life and is not meant for most to be practiced to the detriment of our social justice calling.

The Holiness Tradition

Far from the impression of morality police that the title suggests, disciples of Christ are called to a holiness of heart. Jesus was rightly critical of God’s people who hearts had become darkened as they practiced and enforced moral scrupulousness as a measure of the spirituality. We are transformed from within and it is a changed heart that turns toward God, not simply ethical practices.

The Charismatic Tradition

Contrary to church divisions that diminished the whole of the gifts of the spirit depending on their outward expression, the life filled with the Spirit as Jesus describes in John 7:37-39. The streams which will emanate from the spirit-filled believer will take numerous forms from which we can learn and benefit. We know that the gifts are not evenly distributed but rather, given to specific members within the community for the good of the whole. To silence some gifts is to exclude some members from full participation in our community.

The Social Justice Tradition

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8-9

Clearly God expects His agents to be active in the ways in which He chooses to right the wrongs of our broken world. We do well to consider that one of the reasons that the new heavens and new earth tarry is that God elects for us to serve His purposes of righting these things rather than simply applying His own supernatural intervention. Our purpose is to promote the Shalom that is only truly possible through Jesus, to be truly at peace with both God and man. This tradition helps us to temper the exclusivity that can be generated through holiness being translated as personal morality. That morality must also be measured by its impact on social justice.

The Evangelical Tradition

The evangelical tradition is more than a label, it is a mission statement. Prior to Christ, the good news of the kingdom was mediated through God’s chosen people. They fell into purely human traps that obscured the message. Jesus threw the doors open once again and invited all people into the kingdom to be a part of its life. The evangelical tradition contributes an emphasis on personal conversion, fidelity to the Word, and evangelism and discipleship. These bring structure to the Christian life but can never do so at the expense of the seeking of Shalom or the expression of the gifts.

The Incarnational Tradition

To be incarnational is to allow the life of God within to be seen in outward expression. Can you be seen by others to be a child of God without words? Transformation of our hearts changes our facade, tearing it down and restoring to other eyes the image of God that was a part of the original design.

Reading with others is much more than simply taking turns in our small group settings, it is inviting the experiences and ideas of others to contribute to our understanding of the kingdom message in the Bible. It shifts and sharpens our reading lens, giving us new perspectives on the ancient texts. God has formulated these experiences to contribute to the dynamic transformation of His people, transforming us into the image that he originally intended and preparing us for an eternity together. How have these experiences contributed to your spiritual transformation? Can you contribute something that will help a brother or sister grow today?

Life With God 5

The reader of Foster’s Life With God might be surprised when they turn the page to chapter five and find the topic, ‘Reading with the Mind.’ This seems at first contrary to the theme of reading with the heart for spiritual formation but a little exploration leads us to discover that reading with the mind is not simply reading for the acquisition and collection of information. It is reading for understanding so that you and I can discover our place in great span of God’s redemptive story. As we engage the messy, complicated, roller coaster story in the scriptures, we find pieces of information that help us to understand who God is, how He interacts with His people, and our individual and corporate purposes in His plan.

We do not want our reading efforts to lead to the amassing of spiritually dead information that leads to pride but no transformation. This was one of the major critiques that Jesus voiced of the religious professionals of his day. They were intellectually deep, knowing the text inside out in all of its nuances but the Spirit was missing. The words were dead without the life giving Spirit of God and lead no one to a transformative experience. In our lives, we read the words under the supervision of Holy Spirit who brings the text to life showing us how to apply and understand the words.

We encounter several genres and a huge historical span of time as we immerse ourselves in the scriptures and find not a systematic and ordered presentation but instead, a messy, complex story of humanity in the presence of God. Recalling the Immanuel Principle is a lens that can focus the hundreds and thousands of lives that we encounter. God says “I am with you” and we read of the lives lived in response to the question, “Will you be with me?” The answers that we see are the struggles that each of us faces in life and the different ways that people have responded to God’s graceful invitation.

How does your Bible reading fit into this idea? Do you memorize bits and pieces of scripture that might pull the verse(s) out of their context? The Old Testament in particular can be a violent story. Does this make you avoid this part of book thinking that it has little application for modern life? I’d love to hear what everyone thinks.

Life With God 4

It was this…intention that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety, that made the goodly fellowship of the Saints and all the glorious army of martyrs and confessors. And if you will here stop and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it. ~ William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

Intent rather than method. A bracing thought for the modern Christian who finds themselves enmeshed in the current intellectual culture of the Church. Spiritual formation is reduced to a set of to-do’s and application. Richard Foster leads us now to develop the proper mindset needed to read the Bible for spiritual formation rather simply information. Life With God locates the next chapter in helping us to draw the distinction between reading the surface of the text and encountering God. The greatest cultural challenge that we face is that we encounter daily the idea that the Bible exists to serve our needs. We are tempted to pick and choose verses that serve our needs while setting aside the context that might challenge our perceptions. When read this way, the Bible becomes a manual for moralism, a behavioral set of scales that substitutes for true relationship with God.

The approach that we can take to engaging the bible to participate in God’s transformation of our souls is called Lectio Divina. Our reading changes focus from breadth to depth. It is a way of encouraging our mind to descend to our hearts so that we are drawn into the love and goodness of God as it is spoken to us through the living Word. Our goal is total immersion in the text so that we a drawn into the story, becoming a part of the words.

There are four elements to Lectio Divina:

  • Lectio – this is the practice of reading with a listening spirit
  • Meditatio – we reflect on what the voice of God speaks to us
  • Oratio – in response to the elation of hearing from God, we pray the scripture in response
  • Contemplatio – most importantly, we contemplate deeply on what changes we will make in our lives in obedience to the Word

Engaging the Bible in this fashion is a challenge to much of what we may have learned. It is not compatible with a daily reading plan which schedules a number of verses so that the book can be completed in a year. We skim over the words that God has for us in our pursuit of the goal. Lectio is a much slower process, immersing us in a single passage, perhaps even a few words or a phrase so that the voice of God can get through to us. It seeps into our heart as we camp on this verse or passage and as our hearts turn, we act in obedience to demonstrate to the world the way of the disciple.

Have you practiced these methods with success? Has there been some culturally or in the Church that works against this method of engaging the text? Let’s talk about this.