On Saturday, I had the opportunity to lead a day long retreat for a wonderful group of Christ-followers from Holiday Park United Methodist Church. The retreat was held at Jumonville, and it was a blessing to be on the mountaintop with such a vibrant and gifted assembly.
The retreat was entitled “Disciplines that Deepen: A Day-Long Exploration of Some Time-Tested Practices That Help Us to Become More Attentive to the Presence of God.” Below is the outline that I assembled for the retreat. I hope that some of you will be inclined to skim it. It was a great day apart.
Disciplines that Deepen
A Day-Long Exploration of Some Time-Tested Practices That
Help Us to Become More Attentive to the Presence of God
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Eric Park, facilitator
Part 1: THE DISCIPLINE OF PRAYER
A. What is prayer?
-Prayer is a soul’s transformational intimacy with the presence of God (Psalm 91).
-Prayer is the God-ordained conduit through which the transforming presence of God makes its way into lives and circumstances (James 5:13-18).
-Prayer is a redemptive honesty before God (Psalm 137).
-Prayer is not simply a dialogue, but an ever-deepening love relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19; Ephesians 6:18).
-Prayer is both individual and communal (Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 18:20).
B. The Lord’s Prayer as a Prayer Model (Matthew 6:5-15—“Pray, then, in this way…)
-Prayer makes us sensitive to the holiness, the majesty, and the “wholly otherness” (Aquinas, et al.) of God. (“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be YOUR name. YOUR kingdom come. YOUR will be done…”)
-Prayer makes us sensitive to our own deepest needs in the presence of God. (“Give US this day our daily bread. Forgive US our debts…”)
-Prayer makes us sensitive to the deepest needs of others in the presence of God. (“…as we also have forgiven OUR DEBTORS.”)
C. Practical Considerations?
-What are our struggles and frustrations with prayer? (Time? Attentiveness?)
-Our devotion to prayer can sometimes be deepened by the establishment of a temporal consistency (a regular time) and a prayer “tabernacle” (a regular place).
-Our devotion to prayer can sometimes be refreshed when we look upon prayer, not as the accomplishment of a pre-established agenda, but as a free-flowing interaction with the Holy Spirit.
-Our devotion to prayer can sometimes be revitalized when we dare to incarnate prayer, not only as a time apart, but as a way of life.
Part 2: THE DISCIPLINE OF SPENDING TIME WITH SCRIPTURE
A. Searching Scripture as a Means of Grace:
“All who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in searching the Scriptures.” (John Wesley, sermon, “The Means of Grace”)
B. Why are apathy, avoidance, and illiteracy concerning Scripture such widespread problems?
C. What Do We Believe About Scripture? Why do we see it as a narrative that is worthy of our earnest study and our diligent meditation?
-Scripture has withstood the test of time.
-Scripture has proven itself to be historically reliable (in the best sense of that word).
-Scripture (at least in the eyes of this humble preacher) has proven itself to be
-All of Scripture leads to Jesus, and Jesus is the interpretive lens through which we read and study all of Scripture.
-Jesus believed that Scripture was to be learned and revered.
D. Spending Cognitive Time with Scripture
-“Cognition” is the process of knowing, perceiving, discerning, conceptualizing, and interpreting. Therefore, spending cognitive time with Scripture means STUDYING the Scripture, its language, its imagery, and its historical setting, all for the purpose of determining what the text might have meant to its original audience and how it might shed important light on the contemporary life of discipleship.
-The goals in cognitive time are as follows:
-to LEARN about Scripture;
-to embrace Scripture’s meaning and content intellectually;
-to UNDERSTAND Scripture
E. Spending Meditative or Prayerful Time with Scripture
-Spending meditative time with Scripture means letting go of concerns about the “facts” of the text in order to listen for how God might be speaking through the text to the depths of one’s soul.
-The goals in meditative time are as follows:
-to EXPERIENCE Scripture;
-to make oneself available to Scripture’s impact and spiritual implications;
-to be understood BY Scripture
Part 3: THE DISCIPLINE OF JOURNALING
A. Is there any biblical teaching that might serve as a helpful impetus for journaling?
-2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?”
B. What Is Christian Journaling?
-It is the discipline of writing (typing) about one’s activities, experiences, thoughts, feelings, and prayers for the purpose of deepening one’s discernment of how it is that God is redemptively at work in the seemingly common nooks and crannies of one’s daily living.
C. Why Journal?
-To remember significant circumstances, happenings, and encounters
-To clarify one’s own thoughts and to distinguish between true feelings and split- second emotional reactions
-To bring one’s hidden sins to light
-To purge one’s potentially destructive emotional energy
-To discern the purposes of God and how those purposes are fulfilled over time
-To gain perspective on the “big picture”
-To discern the answering and outcome of one’s prayers
-To trace the process of sanctification in one’s life
-To encounter Scripture more meaningfully
“I wonder if I shall burn this sheet of paper like most others I have begun in the same way. To write a diary, I have thought of very often at far and near distances of time: but how could I write a diary without throwing upon paper my thoughts, all my thoughts - the thoughts of my heart as well as of my head? And then how could I bear to look at them after they were written? Adam made fig leaves necessary for the mind, as well as for the body. And such a mind as I have! - So very exacting and exclusive and eager and head long and strong and so very often wrong! But still I will write: I must write and the oftener wrong I know myself to be, the less wrong I shall be in one thing - the less vain I shall be!”
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
“This is not a pen, it is a prayer, one must have compassion for that.”
“I won’t give up the diary again. I must hold on here. It is the only place I can.”
Part 4: THE DISCIPLINE OF RESPONDING TO SUFFERING
A. Suffering is one of the most substantive common denominators of the human condition. If one lives long enough, one will surely spend some time suffering—suffering with illness, suffering with grief and despair, suffering with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Therefore, the way in which one responds to suffering has much to do with the health and vitality of one’s spiritual journey.
B. People are often so thoroughly focused on the question of why their suffering is happening to them that they fail to reflect upon the question of how they might respond to their suffering in a way that honors the integrity of their discipleship.
C. The Cross as a Model for a Christ-honoring Response to Suffering
-“I am thirsty”—Responding to suffering demands a rejection of heroic postures and forced stoicism in favor of an honest acknowledgement of our pain and our deepest thirsts. It is possible, in other words, to suffer communicationally rather than silently.
-“Woman, here is your son, and son, your mother”—A Christ-honoring response to pain and loss resists the condition of becoming so idolatrously fixated upon one’s own suffering that one becomes blind to the suffering of others and the doorway to ministry and relationship that such suffering often creates.
-“Today, you will be with me in paradise.”—At the heart of the Christ-follower’s response to suffering is the conviction that the suffering will somehow be redeemed.
-“Father, forgive them…”—One’s response to suffering honors Christ when bitterness and hardness of heart gives way to forgiveness and reconciliation.
-“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22)—Suffering can be a pathway into a deeper contemplation of Scripture and an intensified life of prayer.
-“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”—One responds well to suffering when the suffering is treated as an opportunity for an even more deeply transformational intimacy with the presence of God.
-“It is finished.”—The Christ-follower responds to suffering, not by denying it, but by seeing it through to its redemptive conclusion.
“We fail to see the place of suffering in the broader scheme of things. We fail to see that suffering is an inevitable dimension of life. Because we have lost perspective, we fail to see that unless one is willing to accept suffering properly, he or she is really refusing to continue in the quest for maturity. To refuse suffering is to refuse personal growth.” (Henri Nouwen)
“When you and I hurt deeply, what we really need is not an explanation from God but a revelation of God. We need to see how great God is; we need to recover our lost perspective on life. Things get out of proportion when we are suffering, and it takes a vision of something bigger than ourselves to get life’s dimensions adjusted again.” (Warren Wiersbe)