Category Archives: spiritual growth

the importance of sacred times

watch on wrist by rambletamble

photo by rambletamble

i’d like to continue our conversation about being present. i shared two things i’ve learned that help me focus everyday all day on what is important to me — daily prayers & “quick pics.” i tend to view these as flexible touch points throughout my day. however, it is vital to my sanity & spiritual growth that i set aside sacred times each day. these are times for “meeting with Christ in your closet,” for quiet, solitude, & reflection. my daily prayers are part of this, but i usually need more than those few quiet minutes, especially in the morning & before i go to sleep. i need time to feast on God’s word, to jot down my thoughts & feelings in my journal, to read a book, to confess, to worship. i need time to soak up the presence of God. my presence throughout the day depends on being in His presence very deliberately, for an extended set-apart time in the morning & evening as well as throughout the day via various touch points.

it took me a long time to understand the importance of what most christians call daily “quiet time.” i call it sacred time because i’m rarely quiet during it! sometimes i may be cast into silence before God, but usually i’m praying aloud & singing, sometimes even crying or shouting [in joy or in anger, depends on the moment]. when i did discover the value of this time with God everyday [in my mid-twenties], it took me much longer to understand the need for consistency, having this time on a daily basis. now, i can’t help it. i feel naked as a jay bird without this time. that doesn’t mean i don’t still skip it now & then because i slept in too late & am in a rush to get wherever i’m going. but those days are always off. and i crave getting back into my “closet” to be with God. i need Him like i need air, water, & food. the more time i spend with Him, the more i realize my need for Him. conversely, the less time i spend with Him, the less cognizant i am of my need. my heart & mind become hardened.

having spent years on a roller coaster in my practice of daily sacred time with God, i know how hard it is to “get back on the wagon” once you’ve fallen off. and i know how much it changes me when i finally do return to Him. it reminds me of heart patients who talk after surgery about how they didn’t realize how badly they felt before with blocked arteries until they could now feel the sensation of better health. they say the difference is huge! so it is too with the spirit. what a difference time with my God makes in my day, in my mind, my heart, my actions, my words, my priorities, my productivity, in everything!

now having a little one to look after each day, i have to be even more convicted about setting aside sacred times. and i’ve struggled doing it! but it’s been worth the difficult adjustments i’ve had to make to ensure i still sit in God’s presence. if you’re not already convinced that you too would be blessed beyond belief by establishing & protecting sacred times, too, here are a few reasons for you to ponder over:

1. our faith will be increased. “so then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (romans 10:17, kjv). while this may directly apply to the written word, i don’t believe that it excludes the other various ways that we can hear God. but listening doesn’t happen accidentally. we must take time to sit before Him, to open our ears & hearts to Him.

2. we will receive guidance from Him. “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. then you will be able to test & approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (romans 12:2). “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (psalm 25:9). time with God’s word [reading it, memorizing it, meditating on it] renews our minds most effectively, & worship brings us into proper posture before the Creator & King. it is through these characteristics that we will be able to receive His guidance, to know His will, His calling.

3. we will be “successful.” “keep this book of the law always on your lips; meditate on it day & night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. then you will be prosperous & successful” (joshua 1:8). countless references in the bible tell us that success — however it be defined — is from the help of the Lord & is often linked to our obedience. how can we receive His help if we don’t spend time with Him in prayer, in His word, in worship to Him? how can we be obedient to Him without a daily refocusing on His ways?

4. we will please God. in case we thought this was all about us & how we’re benefitted, let’s remember that our purpose in life is not to seek our own happiness but to please God & to bring Him glory. He desires relationship with us, & that requires time together. don’t let your christianity be reduced to a religion. allow Him to elevate it to relationship. as He often does, God takes that which is intended to bless Him & blesses us right back. having an intimate relationship with God will be the most rewarding thing into which we can ever invest our time. sacred time.

if you don’t already have sacred time set apart, spend time in prayer today with your day planner in front of you, & block it out. it is a most holy sacrifice, pleasing to the Lord.

 

a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal

what do a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal have in common? they have each indelibly marked my life in Christ. if they were tattoos, i would be covered head to toe in the ink of their influence.

the pioneer was born a few years after me into the same household, by the same two parents. she is my blood sister. my younger sister. and yet, as she has grown up, she has blazed a trail in the spiritual life that has compelled me to follow. when i was in college and she was still a teenager in high school, i realized she was a mentor to me in the faith. i watched & learned from her how to pursue relationship with Jesus & relationship in a faith community even when your own church lets you down & offers you nothing. i watched & learned from her how to stand up for what you believe in & to challenge your peers to do the same. she was not concerned with converting everyone to believing the same things she did. she just wanted her fellow christians to know why they believed what they believed, rather than to continue being spoon fed by a youth pastor or parents. she challenged her friends, & she challenged me, to take ownership of our faith, our beliefs, our commitments, our actions. i watched & learned from her how to reach out & embrace my friends who were gay. to me, she is an icon for Christ’s love to this group of people so often marginalized & despised by the church. these lessons from my younger sister shaped me so much that they become major aspects of my own identity. one of my own mottos has become to stand up for what you believe in no matter what the consequences might be. [we both learned this from watching our father do it growing up, but it took me watching her live it out to put it into action myself.] we both have a plethora of reasons to be cynical about the church & “have every right” to walk away from it. but we don’t. one reason i don’t is because she spoke so often about her passion for God’s kingdom & reminded me that beyond the ugliness of the church, there is also beauty. her passion was contagious. and now it is my consuming passion. and within that overarching passion, one of my deepest desires is to see the church welcome all people with the love of Christ, making the church a safe place to ask questions & to learn about Jesus, even & especially the lgbt community. anyone who knows me well knows these to be three important tenets in my life, yet so few know to whom i am indebted. to this pioneer in the faith, my younger sister, to whom i ought to have been the example, i am humbled & honored to learn from, to imitate, & to now walk alongside on the fiery path to God.

the pacifist was born a few years after me in a state far away into a family i did not know. we did not meet until both in our twenties [me in my late twenties]. she has become my sister in every sense of the word. we have become family by the blood of Christ & by shared ministry. when i moved to lafayette, my husband shaun was sure she would become my best friend. she & i both anticipated it to be so. while we became friends, it wasn’t until we had a common ministry that we became best friends & then sisters. we have so much in common — love for reading, aptitude for design, obsession with shoes, marriage to farm boys… but it has been our differences that have catapulted me along my faith walk. she’s a pacifist. i am not. she’s an analytical thinker. i am not. she’s a deliberate communicator. i am not. and while i still won’t claim to be a pacifist [mostly because i won’t claim any -ist or -ism], i have come a long way in understanding the nonviolence of our Savior. many of my views & beliefs have been overturned by my exposure to this pacifist sister. she has taught me how to approach people, especially difficult people [as this was our shared ministry — one very troubled young woman], with more compassion & less condemnation, with more calmness & less calamity, with more wisdom & less assumption, with more deliberateness in word & deed rather than with reactionary anger & frustration. she is my go-to editor & advisor in everything because she always takes me down a notch. [or two, or ten!] she brings me back down to the molehill when i’m insistent on climbing the mountain. she imparts godly perspective. i have not lost an iota of my passion but rather learned how to control that passion in appropriate, more effective, & Christlike ways. everything about who i am — my conviction of what is right, my passion for the Lord’s church, & my love for marginalized people — has found necessary balance. not balance as in “not going to far with it.” oh, no! but in balancing goodness [truth] with kindness, balancing passion with compassion, & balancing love for the marginalized with love for those who have done the marginalizing [whether intentional or not]. the pacifist has brought balance to the passionate.

and the prodigal. oh, my sweet, beautiful, messed up girl. the prodigal was born ten years after me, & yet she is as much a spiritual daughter as a sister. she is the troubled young woman the pacifist & i worked with together. we met her as a late teen, having been through a life no one deserves, having never had a real break, having never really understood God. so we worked with her, we met with her, we listened to her, we studied with her, we prayed with her, we took her in, we kicked her out, we cried with her, we cried for her, we fought with her, we held her, we loved her. after months of incessant drama & effort with her, she chose Christ. we had the privilege to baptize her into Christ together. to date, it is the greatest highlight of my life.

as with any new christian, there were ups & downs that followed. by the end of the year, we hit a major downswing. she was walking deliberately away from God in every decision she was making. we told her we would not keep meeting with her every week while she continued to do that. she walked out, & we didn’t see or hear from her for two months. it was agonizing. we were so afraid of what she would do, whether she would live through it, whether she would ever come back to God, to us. i had never understood the parable of the prodigal son so acutely. i am not a parent, so there are many things about being a parent & having a child that i can’t understand. but this is one experience that i do understand & i pray most parents never have to. fast forward: what a hallelujah moment when she came home! we all moved in together to help her rehabilitate & rediscover the life in Christ. it was hard, it was messy, but it was worth it. she changed & grew, wrestled & learned. she wrote beautiful psalms nearly every day. she increased prayer in our home one-hundred fold! i learned from this sweet prodigal how to love someone who has hurt you so badly, how God turns mourning into dancing. i learned a new definition of patience. i learned how to yield to & rely on the fruit of the Spirit within me. i learned so much about how God views, loves, treats me. i learned how i am the prodigal, too. our beautiful, messed up girl is wayward again. prodigal again. still, she teaches me: to love long-distance, to pray without ceasing, to hope in the impossible [because that’s what God specializes in]. it hasn’t turned out like we hoped yet, but i’m still learning that while it was hard, & it was messy, it was absolutely worth it. she was absolutely worth it.

three beautiful women who have written Christ more deeply into my life. what do a pioneer, a pacifist, & a prodigal have in common? they have all exemplified our God in beautifully unique & desperately needed ways. for me, & now, i hope for you, too.

i have written this as part of sarah bessey’s tribute to spiritual midwives & patron saints as we celebrate international women’s day & “the spiritual achievements of women, past, present, & future, who have mattered to us.” i have written about only three women in my life who have made a difference for Christ. i could have written volumes trying to include every precious women throughout my life & through pages of their writing who have blessed me, taught me, challenged me, & mentored me in the faith. to all of you who make this difference, in my life & in others’, THANK YOU. please visit sarah’s post & be encouraged by the stories of other women taking the world by storm & by love. 

asking good questions

i don’t know when it started, but somewhere along the way i started collecting “good questions.” i do know how it started. i would be reading a book, usually along the lines of spiritual formation, & the author would pose a question that struck me somehow. sometimes with conviction, sometimes because i’d never thought of it before, sometimes due to an interest in the topic — but all good questions.

i think one characteristic of a student of Life is the asking of good questions. a student, by definition, seeks to learn. one of the most common ways we learn is by finding answers to questions. we glean these answers in various ways — reading, experimenting, exploring, asking others older &/or wiser than we, observing, listening, practicing, failing, succeeding. life is full of lessons for those willing to pay attention. looking for the lesson in all of life’s experiences, the extraordinary & the mundane, is crucial for the student of Life. and we have open eyes to see those lessons all around us, every day, by asking questions of our experiences. what was significant about that circumstance? why am i drawn to that person? why do i avoid another? what am i afraid of? what’s stopping me? how did i see God’s presence through that situation?

i started noting questions that made me more aware of the importance of day-to-day happenings in the big picture of my life & the world, or that made me more reflective on myself, who i am, & who i am becoming, whether intentionally or not. i actually jot down “good Q” in the margins of my books & bible studies. i don’t know that i originally intended to go back & review these questions or just wanted to note my thought in the moment. over time, i have gone back & looked at them. i have even started occasionally journaling about my answers to the questions that strike a chord with me. i’ve started recording them on index cards so i can keep them all together in one place.

and i thought another appropriate place for these good questions might be here on this little acreage of cyberspace. i’d like to share with you the questions that mystify me, inspire me, & convict me. sometimes, i might even share what my current personal answer is to a particular question. i’d love to hear your answers. because another characteristic of a student of Life is learning from the answers of others. there is much wisdom in community. may we become the wiser together!

today, i’d like to pose this question:

how can we be certain that we are growing spiritually?

this was asked during our prayer team meeting this past week, & i’ll share with you our collective thoughts.

>> how others perceive us [they may see things in us that we don’t]

>> answered prayers can indicate increased effectiveness & growth

>> how our reactions to certain situations evolve over time [do we become more or less reactionary? are our reactions calmer &/or more mature?]

>> having increased amazement in who God is & what He does

>> when being like God & with God becomes as natural as breathing

i know there must be many more insightful thoughts about this question, & it’s one i’ll be chewing on over time. i hope you’ll share your thoughts!

how do you know when you’re growing spiritually?