NRH


Cultivate Your Mind: How Memorizing Bible Verses Can Give You Clarity of Thought

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A cultivated mind is one that is well-tended, nourished, disciplined, and flourishing. How do we cultivate our minds? By taking in ideas, actually thinking through them, solving problems, etc. We “work out” our minds. For the Christian, a cultivated mind is also one that has been carefully grown to have increased sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and see the world as the Divine sees the world.

In his book Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God’s Word Korean pastor Joshua Choonmin Kang provides a profound insight when he says,

A cultivated mind can see the universe in a falling leaf, an orchard in seed, an ocean in a drop of water, eternity in a grain of sand. (p. 33)

The Christian worldview actually allows us to step into God’s reality, and to begin to see matter, space, and time as God sees them.

Hiding the word of God in our hearts is perhaps the most foundational step developing the Christian worldview. If the Christian worldview is indeed Truth--and I believe it is--then it is a most accurate lens for examining reality. As we memorize the Bible and mediate on its passages, we allow it change our every perception.

A better grasp on reality means we can think more clearly, draw better conclusions, and experience life in rich dimensions previously unreachable. Things that didn't make sense ("the last shall be first," "power made perfect in weakness," and the rest of the Gospel's counter-intuitiveness) begin to snap in place, and we experience those "oh...I see...!" moments.

We are enlightened by the light of Life.

In a very real way, our minds finally begin to work as they were created to.

All from memorizing Bible verses.

Rhythm & Blues: Why I Pray the Daily Office

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Few things have had as much impact on my life as the discipline of praying the Daily Office, a cycle of morning and evening prayer in the Anglican tradition.

This is because it’s given me a steady structure and emotionally honest framework for prayer.

Rhythm

I can say in all honesty that most days, I love to pray. I am astounded often that the creator of the universe is with me and ready to listen, and desires for me to listen to him as well. I try to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness for the truly wonderful gifts he’s given me: forgiveness, hope, life, the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel like praying.

I’m busy, tired, whatever. This is when having a plan helps: set prayers, regular time of day, and Bible readings all picked out.

Discipline begets discipline, so I notice when I’m faithful in the Office it’s easier to control my body, my thoughts, and emotions. I find I sin less for the simple fact that I know I’m going to meet with God in just few hours for confession. I know we will have to talk about what I did and/or thought about doing today.

When things seem to get out of control, when life is crazy, stressful and days seem dim, the Office becomes (by virtue of the Scriptures and ancient prayers it presents) a brighter spot and a source of comfort. When you pray the Office, you know you are not alone. My whispered prayers are joined by millions of others the world over, contemplating the same texts, breathing the same pleas for mercy, thanking the same God for the means of grace.

Blues

The Daily Office gave me the gift of the Psalms. All of them. When you pray the Office, you pray the happy, inspiring ones about God’s love and faithfulness alongside the ones that ask God hard questions, like “How long will you judge unjustly / and show partiality to the wicked?” (Psalm 82). You pray the ones that are brutally honest about fervent desires for justice to be done:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,

blessed shall he be who repays you

with what you have done to us!

Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones

and dashes them against the rock!

These are heartbreaking, violent, and often confusing words for all of us. Yet these Psalms give us permission and a path to bring all of ourselves–even and especially the angry, doubting and dark places–into the context of God’s faithfulness. After all, the Psalter is also a retelling of the whole Biblical narrative, including Christ, if we know where and how to look.

I don’t have all the answers yet, but after about five times through the Psalter so far this year I’ve gained some peace through these poems. I’ve begun to understand what it means to honestly long for God’s justice without succumbing to the temptation to exact revenge for myself. I’ve begun to learn how to pray to God even when I might be angry with him. God is big. He can take our questions and our frustration and even our possibly less-than-pure motives and by grace enable us to “walk in the light of life” (Psalm 56:13).

Rhythm and blues. That’s why I pray the Daily Office.

This One Simple Practice Changed My Life

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It’s only been in the last twelve months or so that I’ve realized the power of physical discipline for taking my spiritual discipline to the next level. beforeafter It should be obvious, yet for me it hasn’t been. Discipline the body, discipline the mind.

Discipline the mind, and you’ve taken the first step toward success in many of the twelve spiritual disciplines.

St. Paul said,

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27, ESV)

Because physical discipline yields tangible results, we begin to better understand discipline in general, and can apply that knowledge to the spiritual realm. I recently starting exercising on a regular basis, and I’ve learned:

Look, this guy:

Me, a couple years ago. Me, a couple of years ago.

and this guy:

Me, a couple weeks ago Me, a couple of weeks ago

are two completely different people, physically and spiritually.

How do we become healthier physically, sharper mentally, and deeper spiritually? By disciplining the body, mind, and spirit.

By God’s grace I’m both the most physically and spiritually disciplined I’ve ever been. The two are much more intertwined than we’d often like to admit.

Multiple Sources For Spiritual Formation

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StreamThe same way that our natural bodies need more than one nutrient to remain healthy and grow, our spirits are also nourished by multiple sources. This means that even though you may be very disciplined in Bible study and prayer, it is not enough. You also need to fast and practice solitude.

This holds true for more than the disciplines. You might be very involved in a small group, but still need to pursue a mentoring relationship. You appreciate your pastor, but have tuned out all other voices for spiritual guidance.

No one practice, person, or even group can provide for us the entirety of our spiritual formation.

How Spiritual Disciplines Help Us Conform to the Mind of Christ

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A graphic I created as part of my graduate work. This presents in a visual way how spiritual disciplines work to conform us to the mind of Christ.

The 12 Spiritual Disciplines: Essential Tools for Spiritual Growth

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The spiritual disciplines are means by which individuals and communities can very literally “practice” their faith. They are tools by which Christians seek to know God, yield to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power, and surrender to the Divine Will in their lives. The disciplines can be instrumental tools as we seek to “tune” ourselves to God’s desires and see his kingdom as he sees it. These holy actions have been practiced by believers since the earliest times, and are firmly rooted in Christ’s commands and examples in the Gospels.

Author and pastor Richard Foster identifies 12 crucial spiritual disciplines. These are further organized into sections: inward, outward, and corporate practices.

Disciplines of Personal Development (Inward)

Disciplines of Service to the Body of Christ (Outward)

Disciplines of Service with the Body of Christ (Corporate)

The disciplines can help move our perspective from a naturalistic point of view to one that is more holy.

The Natural Man

All of this obstructs our view of Jesus, the one who is worthy of attention, honor, praise, and worship, because of who he is and what he has done.

The disciplines can help clear the path and bring us back into line-of-sight with the Savior.

Examples of How Real Change Happens

The Disciplined Christian can know God's ways though study...

He or she spends time soaking in Scripture, becoming intimately familiar with its message, learning the history of God's church, and gaining understanding of the practical implications of theology.

The Disciplined Christian is reminded of the source of all blessing and sustenance through fasting...

Abstaining from food, time commitments and distractions, from anything that takes focus from Jesus brings clarity, focus, and humility.

The Disciplined Christian can slow down through simplicity...

Seeking the kingdom of God first ultimately causes the believer to cast aside anything that is not holy. The pursuit of wealth and power are the antithesis of the kingdom that Jesus models.

The Disciplined Christian can hear God's voice more clearly through solitude...

Alone time with God helps provide room for silence, waiting on God, and hearing the sometimes still, small voice of his Spirit.

The Disciplined Christian is grieved by sin through confession...

Personal and corporate confession provide a way to confront, admit, be convicted of, and deal with sin in the context of a supportive community and ministers of grace.

The Disciplined Christian puts God in the highest place through worship...

The believer joins with others in praise and thanksgiving, placing Jesus in the supreme place of honor in his or her life.

Conclusion

These 12 spiritual disciplines help to combat the sinful nature and our naturalistic world view. They can bring the believer into a mental, emotional, and spiritual state of higher awareness of God, his nature, and his kingdom. These tools are one way for individuals and communities to begin to bring their focus back to the Holy One and seek his will.

Buy Foster’s book, The Celebration of Discipline, on Amazon

What is the Path to Spiritual Growth?

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It’s hard for me to believe that it’s taken me this long to pick up and read Richard Foster’s classic on essential tools for spiritual growth, Celebration of Discipline. Although I’ve studied the disciplines for quite some time and have read other books on spiritual formation that took cues from Foster, I finally got around to diving into the original. It’s clear why this book has been such an influential work on so many. Foster writes with eloquence and practicality, eager to challenge the reader but never pressing too hard. There’s a certain pastoral sensitivity in his prose that is a joy to read Foster’s progression through the inward and outward disciplines is logical and thoughtful, thorough without becoming verbose.

I loved this book and plan on re-reading it with some frequency. Some of my favorite thoughts and quotes:

When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received...the demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. (p. 6)
The Spiritual Disciplines are intended for our good. They are meant to bring the abundance of God into our lives. It is possible, however, to turn them into another set of soul-killing laws. Law-bound Disciplines breathe death. (p. 9)
Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word. It is that simple...It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness. The truth of the matter is that the great God of universe, the Creator of all things desires our fellowship. (p. 17)
Service as a substitute for worship is idolatry. Activity is the enemy of adoration. (p. 161)
In the spiritual life only one thing will produce genuine joy, and that is obedience. (p. 192)

If you were to read only one book on growing in your faith as a disciple of Christ, this is the one.

Buy it on Amazon

A Devotional to Help You Hide the Word of God in Your Heart

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I’ve not made Scripture memorization the priority that I should have in the past. As part of my attempt to rectify this, I bought Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God’s Word by Joseph Choonmin Kang. He’s a new pastor/author to me, but I saw that he runs with the Dallas Williard/Richard Foster crowd. That and the positive reviews on Amazon convinced me to give this book a try, and I’m very glad I did.

It’s divided into 30 short sections that are easily readable in a single 15-20 minute session, and those are often further subdivided into a devotional thought followed by practical advice for memorization. So not only to do you get a great biblical foundation for the importance of committing scripture to memory, you learn how to memorize Bible verses as well.

Each reflection is based on a portion of Scripture itself. I read the whole book in a matter of hours, but it’s one I plan to return to as a regular for devotional use. It’s clearly meant to be read over the course of about a month, and I think it would be best experienced that way. The thoughts are simple, but deep, and demand time to them really sink in.

A few thoughts from the book that struck me with particular force:

"To memorize the Bible, we have to pray the Bible first" p. 11

“Learning Scripture by heart throws open the door to meditation.” p. 17

“Our goal isn’t memorizing as many Scripture verses as possible. It’s conforming to the image of Jesus Christ.” p. 106

“Nothing is more essential for the minister of the gospel than spiritual training. Nothing is more essential to spiritual training than memorizing Scripture.” p. 120

Biblical success is “accomplishing something God has entrusted to us.” p. 125

“Patience is always a prelude to perfection.” p. 139

This is a fantastic book of devotions and practical advice for any Christian seeking to grow deeper in the discipline of memorization.

Buy it on Amazon

How to begin hearing from God

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When I was in college, I struggled through a pretty long spiritual dry-spell. Then I discovered something that drastically changed the trajectory of my spiritual journey.

This new way of reading the Bible and praying transformed my “prayer life” from one-way communication (me-to-God) into a two-way conversation.

I discovered Christian meditation in the form of lectio divina. I began to take my commitment to knowing God (not just knowing about God) more seriously.

I began to expect God speak to me through the Bible and practice discernment in my thoughts to see what was from me, and what might be from the Holy Spirit. I experienced a vibrant, refreshing, realness in my walk with God I had previously only caught glimpses of.

Divine Reading

The ancient practice of Lectio Divina ("Divine Reading") most likely originated with monks of the Benedictine tradition, although it is now an integral part of the spirituality many different faith communities.

The driving idea behind Lectio Divina is that Bible study is and should be an expression of your relationship with the Triune God. It is a method that emphasizes a certain conversational aspect of meditating on the Scriptures by providing specific times during your Bible study to both hear from God and respond to His word.

There are are four stages to the Lectio Divina process: Reading, Meditation, Response, and Contemplation.

Before you begin, take a moment to pray and ask for the direction of the Holy Spirit as you move through various stages of Lectio Divina. As with any method for Bible study and prayer, it will probably be beneficial to find a place that is quiet and free of distractions.

Getting started with Lectio Divina

Reading. In this first stage of prayer, choose a passage of Scripture to read slowly and carefully. Don’t read too much...you want to really be able to focus on just a few aspects of the text that might resonate. On the other hand, it’s important to not just take one verse out of context, either. I generally try to go methodically through a book of the Bible, using either the pre-marked sections or chapter markers as my guide for each session. I’ve also found it to be helpful to write down verses that stand out or thoughts that come to mind while reading. If you keep these notes, they can become a valuable record of your spiritual journey over time.

Meditation. After carefully reading through your scripture passage, take some time to ponder the text. Go back over your notes, and perhaps adding clarifying thoughts and ideas as they come. Think about what this passage meant to the writer, to the original audience, and what it might mean for you. You might re-read the passage in order to glean further meaning and gain greater understanding.

Response. During this portion of the prayer, allow yourself to respond to the text. Think about how the text might change you. Does the text alter how you view the world, yourself, or God? What attitudes in yourself does the passage bring to light? Offer your response to the Father in humble submission to his will.

Contemplation. Simply focus lovingly on God. Words are not necessary in this part of the prayer, because you are resting in His presence. Don’t resist thoughts as they come to your mind…simply deal with them. If they are relevant to your conversation with God, then offer them back to him and pray for guidance. If they are not, dismiss them, and return your full attention to the One who gives you peace, rest, and understanding.

As with all disciplines, Lectio Divina takes practice and time. If you stick with it, though, it can be a life-changing way to pray the Scriptures and practice the presence of God.