Growing Spiritual Graces I: The Bible

 

Just a few of the tools and Bibles I've learned to love over the years.

Just a few of the tools and Bibles I’ve learned to love over the years.

Tuesday I introduced this series about how “spiritual disciplines” may be better thought of as “spiritual graces” and promised you to offer some suggestions for developing healthy habits for growing in grace.

The Bible itself assures us that we will be transformed by reading, meditating, praying, and discussing it. Yet, it is probably the spiritual grace Christians struggle with the most. My guess is that our flesh is more comfortable with the quick-fix, self-promotional stories culture tells, and that the evil one wants to keep it that way.

So we need help, and I pray these suggestions will encourage you to create a regular rhythm of Bible reading that you won’t want to miss.

1. Know what the Bible is:
“[People] know that God has provided His Word as heavenly food for daily consumption, but morning by morning, as folks wake up to find God’s Word sitting on the chair-side table covered with dust, they wonder: What is it? and What do we do with it?” Jimmy Davis, The Cruciform Life
The Bible is the one true love story. It tells us who God is and how he’s made the world, including us. It tells us about how Adam and Eve messed up, trying to take life into their own hands and do things their way, doubting that God was really good. And it tells us how God loved his creation so much that he sent his holy Son as a divine human to die so that we could live in loving relationship with him and one another again. Every historical account, chronicle, law, poem, and prophecy in the Bible points us to God’s work of redemption and grace.
2. Use a good study Bible.
I’ll confess, Chronicles can feel like drudgery and will probably always be one of my least favorite books to read. But reading some helpful study notes from a scholar who can make connections and point to God’s story of grace in the long lists of genealogies makes it much more interesting (if not quite exciting:-)!
Here are two of my favorites:

3. Read in different translations:You have more opportunities than ever to do this in the age of the internet:

Four favorite translations:

  • ESV: a translation that sticks very closely to the original languages while keeping it readable for 21st century readers.
  • NIV84: The original New International Version also correlates closely with original languages and is perhaps slightly easier to read than the ESV.
  • NLT: This translation is a “dynamic equivalent” which conveys the tone and sense of the original communicators in a highly readable style.
  • The Message: is not a strict translation but is more poetic and like reading a well-written story.

Three places to find these translations:

This is probably enough to get you started today. If you want to receive the next post in your inbox, please go here to sign up.Stay tuned till next week for more ideas on how to make Bible reading and study a regular practice.

What about  you? Please join the conversation in the comments. 

What has made it hard for you to read the Bible?

What things have helped you?

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Re-visiting Spiritual Disciplines

My caricature of the impossible-to-achieve spiritual giantess status.

My caricature of the impossible-to-achieve spiritual giantess status.


Re-thinking spiritual disciplines
So NOT a Spiritual Giantess
As a young Christian back in the 70’s, I got the wrong impression about we often called our “spiritual life.” For example, I thought things like having good quiet times (whatever that meant) or memorizing Bible verses would make me a better Christian and more acceptable to God. Thank goodness for the great gospel news that God loves us because he loves us, not because we are “spiritual giants,” which I definitely was not.
The Good News/Bad News
The good news is that I began to understand that my so-called spiritual labors did not save me — thankfully, that work was done by Jesus on the Cross. The bad news is that somehow a lot of us got the idea that we didn’t need to develop regular practices of immersing ourselves in our story. At the office, the school, the playing field, and of course, on the internet, our culture bombards us with stories about who we are and what we should be. These stories tell us how to spend our money and our time, how we don’t measure up, and as a cure for our unworthiness — how to regain self-esteem.
Immersing Ourselves in The Story
In the midst of these mixed messages, we desperately need to know the one True Story Scripture tells. Knowing this story, remembering and rehearsing it, conversing with it and resting in the One who wrote it is our only hope for living in the freedom for which Christ sets us free (Gal. 5:1). When our neighbor mocks us because we go to church on Sunday mornings, we need to know that our lives depend on joining with other believers to remember and celebrate and worship the God who says there is no condemnation in Christ. When our co-workers criticize us for leaving early to coach our child’s soccer game, we need to know we can trust God to provide.
Living the Story
Because “spiritual disciplines” still matter so deeply to our calling to worship and enjoy God forever, I’ll be spending some time over the next few days offering some practical suggestions for developing and refining practices that keep us in The Story.
I’d love to hear your suggestions.
What things help you to spend time reading Scripture, praying, staying in community, resting, etc.?
What do you think are the most essential spiritual disciplines, and how have they impacted you?

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6 Creative Ways to Determine What Work to Do

One of my great privileges as a Christian life story coach is to walk alongside people as they discern and decide which paths to pursue regarding their daily work. Approaching these decisions is easier when we understand that in our redeemed state, we have “jobs” to do: “God’s ambassadors,” “ministers of reconciliation,” and “disciple-makers” among them. The Bible tells us we are teeming with meaning, shimmering with the glory of the Creator who made us just so. With that knowledge as a background, we can dive into some practical ways to determine directions for our particular work. Here are 5 ideas to help you figure out what work you might do.

  1. Explore your story. Consider your personality (there are many online inventories for this), the roles you enjoy performing, your passions, values, history, gifts, and broken places.
  2. Draw your dream. Even if you’re not an artist, this exercise can bring more clarity to your vision. Drawing or painting opens your imagination to new possibilities and gives you a picture of where you want to go. Don’t worry about perfect representation — stick figures and icons will suffice. Try doing a 2 year, 5 year, and 10 year dream. (If you really don’t want to draw, consider writing a fictionalized story).

    I drew two of the things I do: coaching and writing, to get a better sense of why I do them. As you can see, drawing is not my strong point!

    I drew two of the things I do: coaching and writing, to get a better sense of why I do them. As you can see, drawing is not my strong point!

  3. Make lists. If you have several different fields you are considering, list the costs or challenges against the benefits or joys of each. List places you might want to work, including cities or areas of the country. List the type of people you’d like to work with. The possibilities for lists are endless.
  4. Do the research. If you think you’d be interested in owning a bakery, interview some bakery owners and ask questions about what it took to start their business. If you are interested in a particular job, like wildlife conservation, find out what education you need to have to do that. Search online for ways to get the education or certification you need to do the work.
  5. Pray and read Scripture. (This comes near the end because it should weave through everything). Not only does prayer acknowledge that God is sovereign over this process, it also helps you to see more clearly. Write out verses that encourage you or make you curious. Pray before you interview someone for research. Write a prayer about your “dream drawings.”
  6. Talk with others. Ask friends and family for insights; even those you differ with may see something you don’t. Sometimes it can be helpful to work with a career counselor or a life coach who will partner with you to brainstorm, observe, ask helpful questions, and keep you on track.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. I’d love to hear from you…

What other tools have you used to discern what work you might do?

Have you tried any of the suggestions listed, or are there any you’d like to try? If you’d like to try one, mark a date on your calendar for working on it and a date to be finished and ask a friend to check with you.

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Running the Race with Endurance

Here I am at another run that year, cheered on by two great witnesses, two of my children!

Here I am at another run that year, cheered on by two great witnesses, two of my children!

Today marks two weeks since a hip arthroscopy performed to treat something called FAI, I decided I would search through the 700-plus-something posts I’ve written in the last 5 years and recycle. I thought I had published something for Veterans’ Day before, but lo and behold, when I searched on Veterans, I found this post. Wow, to think — just 3 and a half years ago, I was running a half-marathon. The truth of the post applies equally to recovery, some thoughts I may continue as recovery progresses. Meanwhile, from April 4, 2010

Thirteen point one miles of hilly country in humid conditions, I am THANKFUL! Thankful to God our Provider who held the rain until many if not most had finished the half. (I am sad for those marathoners who trained so hard but were prevented finishing because of severe weather spotted:(. I’ve done a number of half-marathons in the past twenty years, coming out of running retirement on occasion to run with a friend or to mark a milestone, or in this case, because my eldest daughter was running her first half (and she completed it with great success), but the Country Music Half remains one of the toughest courses because of the hills. What gets me through those ups and downs of the course are the wonderful spectators, the “great cloud of witnesses” who line the course cheering us on, telling us we’re doing well, encouraging us that we can make it. So again I thank those who lined the roads today, risking being rained upon, and I offer all of us the reminder that whether in life’s journey or a morning run, we need the “cloud of witnesses.” Who are the people who cheer you on on life’s strangely contoured journey? Thank God for them (and thank them) today!

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” The Message, Heb. 12:1-3

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The Self Shadow: Prayers of Flannery

Flannery’s Prayers are available now for pre-order.

I don’t have my hands on the book yet, but I can’t wait to read the collection of Flannery O’Connor’s old prayers edited by W.A. Sessions. Reading a few of the excerpted prayers available in the New York Times and New Yorker, I wonder whether it is appropriate to read prayers that Flannery wrote to God — does that then make her prayers a performance of sort? It is one thing to read prayers someone wrote for the purpose of helping others pray, but I do wonder if Flannery herself ever thought her prayer journal would be published. I guess I’m going to have to get my hands on the book to learn that.

Meanwhile, here are a few excerpts that particularly struck me as a writer and as a woman always trying to get my “self” out of the way so I can love God’s glory and others can too.

“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. 

I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.

Give me the grace to be impatient for the time when I shall see You face to face and need no stimulus than that to adore You. Give me the grace, dear God, to see the bareness and the misery of the places where You are not adored and desecrated.

Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story — just like the typewriter was mine.”

What do you think? Have you ever written out prayers? Did you write them for others to read, or for God’s eyes alone? 

Try writing a prayer today. It’s really cool if you read Scripture first and tie the prayer into that Scripture. If you want people to read it, share it in the comments section or in a letter or on social media.

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Elizabeth's passion to tell the Big Story of redeeming love through the everyday events and the oftentimes crises of life reveals the melody of God’s grace and the beauty of his truth. [read more]