Sabbath: Resting in Jesus

by Pastor Brian

In 2012, Tim Kreider wrote an article in The New York Times entitled, “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” When a friend sent it to me and I read it for the first time, I remember feeling like Kreider was reading my mail. Of the many insights in his article, there were two in particular that resonated with me: One was that most of our busyness is self-imposed. The great majority of what fills our time are obligations that we’ve taken on voluntarily. To a large degree, we are busy by choice. It’s not inevitable. As much as I hate to admit it, I do this to myself. 

The second was his explanation as to why we do this to ourselves. Kreider writes, “They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.” He continues, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

Yikes. Part of why the past two months have been difficult for so many of us is that our normal (but unhealthy!) patterns (addictions?) of busyness have been interrupted. We haven’t been able to fill our time in the same ways we could previously. We’ve been forced to stop and wait, and neither of those things come naturally to us.  

And, yet, to return to a quote from Dallas Willard that I mentioned a few weeks ago, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.(1) I think that deep down inside of us, we know that to be true. We know we need to slow down. We know we need to cease our compulsive doing. We know we need to rest in and enjoy Jesus. We’re just not sure how. This is exactly why God has given us the gift of Sabbath rest.

What is Sabbath rest?

Biblically, the Sabbath day was a twenty-four-hour period beginning at sundown on Friday and lasting through sundown on Saturday. The two specific Old Testament commandments regarding the Sabbath are found in Exod 20:8-11 and Deut 5:12-15. Both passages are similar in what they command, but they differ in the reason given for the command. In the Exodus account, Sabbath observance is rooted in creation: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day” (Exod 20:11). In Deuteronomy, it’s rooted in the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). So Sabbath observance in the Old Testament was a way for Israel to both image their Creator and remember their salvation

But by the time of the New Testament, the religious leaders had begun to misunderstand and misuse the gift of Sabbath by making it a day of burden rather than a day of blessing. Jesus regularly challenged this teaching, and in one such instance, he concludes by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). He reiterates that the Sabbath was to be a day of healing and restoration (cf. Mk 3:4-5), not one of burden and bane.

There are various perspectives as to how the Fourth Commandment still applies to New Testament Christians, but what is clear is that the initial Sabbath command is rooted in creation. The creation narrative in Genesis 1-2 concludes this way: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen 2:2-3). 

Pause for a moment to consider that: God rested. He worked six days and then He rested. He stopped. He ceased His work. In other words, God is not a workaholic! And then he blessed that day of rest and made it holy. It is a holy, blessed, God-like thing to rest, and so part of the way we bear His image in the world is by resting.

The Characteristics of Sabbath Rest

Pete Scazzero identifies four foundational characteristics of Sabbath rest: we stop work, we enjoy rest, we practice delight, and we worship God.”(2) 

1. We STOP work.

Sabbath is most basically a day when we stop working. We step away from both our paid and unpaid(3) work for a full day. This might be the hardest of the four, but it’s at the heart of Sabbath rest. In fact, the Hebrew word for “Sabbath” means “to cease.” 

Ceasing from our work is both incredibly difficult and vitally important for a number of reasons: 

  • Ceasing from our work reminds us that the Lord is God, and we are not. 

You were not created for non-stop work. You were created with limits. You must sleep. You must rest. You are dependent. If we choose to ignore those limits, then eventually our bodies will take over and impose a forced Sabbath upon us–usually through some sort of illness or breakdown.

But the reality is that most of the time we despise our limits. They keep us from maximizing efficiency and doing all that we want to do, and so we view our limits as weaknesses to be overcome. We compensate for them or try to lifehack our way around them. And yet, despite our best efforts, we continue to bump up against them. Our to-do lists are never completely done. We can’t do all that we wish we could. We’re not in control in the ways that we wish we were. And that exposes the problem: much of our busyness is an attempt not to be like God, but to be God. 

Sabbath is God’s way of reminding us that He is God, and we are not. Stepping away from our work for one day a week is an embodied way for us to trust God with our lives. It’s a day where we’re reminded that He is in control. That He does care for us. And that we can trust Him. 

Part of God’s gift of Sabbath is to not only remind us that we have limits, but to recognize them as a gift. The world is not on our shoulders–and that’s a good thing.  

  • Ceasing from our work reminds us that our identity is in Jesus and not in what we do.

Our extreme busyness is often a veiled attempt at proving our worth and justifying our existence. If all you have is your resume, then non-stop work will be the norm. 

But the truth of the gospel is that our identity is a gift. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, you are fully forgiven, accepted, and loved. There’s nothing more you could do to garner the Father’s favor, because you already have it in and through Jesus. In His grace, God reminds us that’s true as we step away from our work. Sabbath works the reality of God’s love for and acceptance of us into our bodies and souls.

Some questions to consider: What about my regular routine would I need to stop in order to experience and enjoy Sabbath? How might I need to re-order the other days of my week in order to stop working on the Sabbath?

2. We enjoy REST. 

If someone offered you a full day to rest your mind, your body, and your soul, your only question would be where to sign up! That is exactly what God has given us every single week. It’s a day to slow down and experience the rest that you’re (sometimes literally) aching for.

Sabbath rest takes multiple forms: 

  • It’s physical rest: we sleep-in and take naps. We take walks. We let our bodies recover.
  • It’s mental and emotional rest: we calm and quiet ourselves. We deliberately turn our attention away from those anxiety-inducing situations that can so easily consume us. 
  • It’s spiritual rest: we rest in God’s love for us. We rest in Jesus’ finished work on our behalf. We’re reminded that the Lord is our shepherd and that He restores our souls.

In short, Sabbath is a day to engage in what restores and replenishes us.

Some questions to consider: What is restful to me? What restores and replenishes me? 

3. We practice DELIGHT. 

One of the most common misconceptions of Sabbath is that it’s fundamentally about what you can’t or ought not to do. We certainly do need to say “no” to certain things, but we say “no” to those things in order to say “yes” to others.

One of the consequences of our incessant busyness is that we unwittingly stop enjoying the people, the activities, the gifts, the God that we love. Sometimes it’s because we don’t have time to enjoy them, but often it’s because we can’t switch our focus away from our work, our tasks, or our devices long enough to actually pay attention to the person, the activity, the gift, or the God who is right in front of us.

Sabbath enables us to slow down enough to both see and enjoy God’s good gifts to us–things like friends, family, seasons, art, reading, meals–all good gifts of creation! This is what God did on that first Sabbath day. After completing His work of creation, God looks at all that He has made and recognizes it to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). A day of rest gives us the opportunity to see the goodness of God’s gifts in our lives. We practice gratitude, and over time, God makes us grateful people.

Sabbath also enables us to slow down in order to show compassion and mercy to those around us. One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ enjoyment of Sabbath was serving. But a word of caution to us achiever-types: This is not license to substitute one form of busyness for another! 

Some questions to consider: What brings me delight? What is life-giving to me? What do I love to do but don’t have time to do during the rest of the week?

4. We WORSHIP God. 

We could’ve easily put this first on the list, but the reality is that it’s difficult to worship and enjoy God if you haven’t stopped or rested. We all know what it’s like to be sitting in worship and be thinking through the work you’ll do later that day or that week. But when  we’ve set aside the day for rest and worship, we’re much more likely to engage with the Lord and experience His love for us in Jesus.

Some questions to consider: In addition to corporate worship, what are the ways that I can experience and enjoy abiding with Jesus? How can I enjoy God and his love for me? Journaling? Reading some devotional material? Slowly reading Scripture? 

Practice of the Week: Practice Sabbath Rest

Here are some tips in getting started:(4)

  • Pick a day and plan ahead for it.

For most, Sunday is the day to celebrate your Sabbath rest. If you’re one whose profession forces you to work on Sundays, (e.g. church staff, medical/hospital staff, police, etc.), then choose one of your days off as your Sabbath.

Some might choose to observe their Sabbath from sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday. Others might prefer all day Sunday. Try each and see what works best for you.

One of the keys to actually being able to rest and worship is to plan ahead! Rest will not happen if it isn’t planned for. Take some time in the days before to accomplish the tasks that you need to. Run errands. Respond to emails. Go grocery shopping. Get schoolwork ready to go for Monday morning. You might even make a “to do before Sabbath” list.  

  • Incorporate a Digital Sabbath

This might sound terrifying to you, but there are incredible benefits to stepping away from our devices each week. If we don’t put some parameters on our digital life, then restful worship is going to be extremely difficult if not impossible.

You might decide to jump in the deep end and turn off all devices for a full day. If that’s not realistic for you, you might put your phone on Do Not Disturb and then check it at 2-3 set times during the day. It could mean taking a break from social media altogether or it might mean just limiting your use. At the very least, try to put your devices away for a time, and don’t check work email.

  • Discuss with your spouse, family members, or roommates how you can encourage and help one another to engage in Sabbath rest. 

Your Sabbath day will look different at different stages of life. Talk about what it could look like in your household.

  • Ease into this practice and give yourself tons of grace!

Sabbath is one of the most counter-cultural practices, so it’s going to take a while to find the rhythm that will work best for you. It might feel like you’re swimming upstream for a while, but stay with it! Start small and ease yourself in over the course of a month. Maybe you begin with a half day Sabbath. See what works and what doesn’t. 

Resist the urge to say, “I’m bad at this” or “This isn’t for me.” Likewise, avoid the legalism that loses sight of the gospel. Remember that you’re already fully accepted and beloved in Jesus, and that’s not based on how well you rest! So be patient with the practice and with yourself! 

FOR REFLECTION & DISCUSSION

  • What do your current practices of rest look like? 
  • What exhausts you or keeps you working past your limits?
  • Do you find it difficult to rest regularly? Why? 
  • How does the gospel address those particular issues?
  • What is appealing to you about the practice of rest?

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

LISTEN

  • LECTURE: “Rest” and the accompanying handout
    • This lecture is the final week of a six-week seminar on Spiritual Formation called “Formed in Christ” that I did at Trinity in the spring of 2016.

READ


(1) Quoted on p. 19 of John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.
(2) Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, 144.
(3) Parents of young children, you obviously can’t just stop parenting one day a week! So this, like all practices, requires some adapting to particular stages of life. In a two-parent home, consider carving some time for each of you individually to rest. If you’re a single parent, consider asking a friend or fellow community group member to give you a respite.
(4) Many of these come from Justin Earley’s chapter on Sabbath in The Common Rule and from Bridgetown Church’s “How to Un-Hurry” workbook.

Silence & Solitude: Being with Jesus

By Pastor Brian Davis

In Minneapolis, MN, you can go see and experience what was once the quietest room in the world.(1) It’s called the Orfield Anechoic Room, and it registers at -9 decibels. To put that in perspective, a normal room that we would consider “quiet” registers at around 30 decibels. The room is so quiet that you can actually hear your own organs functioning! 

For many of us who are now in week seven (or is it eight?) of homeschooling and working from home in a packed house, that kind of peace and quiet might sound like a dream. But it’s not. In fact, it pretty quickly turns into a nightmare. The longest that anyone has spent alone in the chamber is 45 minutes. The average person lasts about 30 minutes, and it’s around the 30-minute mark that people begin hallucinating. It’s so quiet that it will literally make you crazy. 

Most of us long for moments of peace and quiet, but when we get them, they don’t last long. But here’s what’s troubling: neither do we. Think back to what you did the last time you were standing in line at the store or showed up a few minutes early to a lunch meeting. What did you do? Sit quietly and take the opportunity to reflect on God’s love for you? Maybe take some deep breaths and review your day with gratitude? No! You did what we all do, which is reach for your phone. Why? Because most of us can’t stand sustained periods of silence. Blaise Pascal famously wrote, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” And yet, the great writer and practitioner of spiritual formation Henri Nouwen says, “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.”(2) So consider this: What if one of our greatest obstacles to communion with Jesus is our inability to sit alone with him in the quiet for any amount of time? What if we don’t experience the depth of his love for us because we just can’t sit still long enough?  

Richard Foster famously said (in 1978 no less!) that this is exactly the place where the Enemy attacks: “In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness’ he will rest satisfied.”(3) Things have only gotten noisier, more hurried, and more crowded since 1978, which is why we desperately need the practice of Silence & Solitude

What is Silence and Solitude?

Silence & Solitude is as simple as it sounds: it’s “an intentional time in the quiet to be alone with God.”(4) It’s a time of prayer, but it’s not a time of petitionary prayer. In other words, it’s not first a time to pray through your list of requests. Silence and solitude is simply being with the Lord. It’s a time to, in the words of Ronald Rolheiser, “rest in God’s presence.” He likens it to what married couples, parents and children, or good friends can experience by merely being in one another’s presence. He writes, “It is enough to be relaxed and quiet in the presence of God, ready to receive and to return God’s loving glance.”(5)

We find examples of silence and solitude all over the Bible. David writes in Ps 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God,” and in Ps 62:1, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” In describing what will happen when God reigns as king, Isaiah prays, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa 26:3). Maybe the most famous Old Testament example is Elijah on Mount Horeb in 1Kgs 19 where the Lord comes to Elijah not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in a “low whisper,” a “thin silence,” or a “still small voice.” 

In the New Testament, Jesus regularly withdraws from the crowds and the disciples in the early morning or late evening in order to be alone with his Father (e.g. Mt 14:22-23; Mk 1:35-39; Lk 5:12-16; 6:12-13). His longest recorded period in solitude was 40 days in the wilderness prior to being tempted by Satan (cf. Mt 4:1-11). One of the most interesting features of Jesus’ time alone with the Father is that those times became more frequent as his ministry grew. John Mark Comer writes, “In Luke’s gospel in particular, you can chart Jesus’ life along two axis points: the busier and more in demand and famous Jesus became, and the more he withdrew to his quiet place to pray.”(6) Jesus needed to be alone in the quiet with his Father, and so do we.

Why do we need Silence & Solitude?

  • Silence & Solitude is essential to abiding in Jesus.

    Simply put, we must make time to be with the people that we love. We know this to be true in our friendships, our marriages, and our families. It’s no different with Jesus. Nouwen writes, “If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give him our undivided attention.”(7) Silence and solitude creates that space to give Jesus our attention. 

    Silence and solitude also helps integrate other spiritual practices into our lives. As you slow down to spend time alone with the Lord, Scripture reading, prayer, and Sabbath become possible in a way that they aren’t when you’re rushing from one thing to the next. 
  • Silence & Solitude is an act of embodied trust in the Lord. 

    For most of us, the moment you try to sit quietly with Jesus is also the moment your mind begins to run wild with all that you could be doing instead. You begin thinking  through your to-do list and worrying about everything that you’ll forget if you don’t either write it down immediately or begin work on it right away.

    This is one of the most challenging parts of silence and solitude, but it’s also one of the reasons it’s such an important practice for us. Silence and solitude forces us to entrust those cares and concerns to the Lord–to actually be still and know that the Lord is God (Ps 46:10) and to remember that I’m not. Everything within us fights against this, because we don’t want to give up control. This is also why it’s so much easier to read and talk about silence and solitude than it is to actually do it! But part of the grace of this practice is that we discover that we can stop. That God can be trusted. That He will take care of those concerns that so easily consume us.
  • Silence & Solitude exposes our hearts. 

    Our addiction to hurry and noise comes, in part, from a desire to keep painful, overwhelming emotions at bay. We think, “If I remain busy enough, distracted enough, and scheduled enough, then I don’t have to feel the hurt, the anger, the anxiety, and the grief inside of me. I don’t have to acknowledge how sad or lonely or scared I really am.” In silence and solitude, all of our favorite ways to escape from or numb those feelings get taken away, and we begin to feel the emotions we’ve been working really hard not to feel. 

    Similarly, silence and solitude strips away the masks we wear around others. All of the ways I strive for affirmation and recognition from other people are gone when I step into the quiet. My attempts to justify myself through hard work and achievement get tossed aside, and I’m left with who I really am before God. “In solitude,” Nouwen writes, “I get rid of my scaffolding.”(8) And that’s incredibly frightening. For this reason, Louis Bouyer says, “Solitude is a terrible trial, for it serves to crack open and burst apart the shell of our superficial securities.”(9)

    But before you stop reading and vow never to even attempt this practice, consider this: silence and solitude allows all of those emotions, all of those fears, all of those attempts to make yourself lovable, to come to the surface in the presence of Jesus…
  • Silence & Solitude is where Jesus meets us with his love and grace.

    We meet the one who is endlessly compassionate and merciful, the one who died to bring healing and wholeness, the one who loves and cherishes the real you. Dane Ortlund writes, “He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; he lives in our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart.”(10) Silence and solitude enables us to experience the overwhelming grace and love of Jesus in all of the places that we need it most.

    Finally, don’t miss this most basic truth: Jesus wants to be with you. He wants to spend time with you. That’s why he endured the cross–so that you, as a broken and beloved sinner, could enter into his presence. Listen to what Jesus asks from his Father the night before his crucifixion: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me” (Jn 17:24). That’s his desire, and it’s this Jesus that invites you into the quiet place to be with him.

PRACTICE OF THE WEEK: Engage in Silence & Solitude 

BEFORE

  1. Choose a consistent time of day & place that is quiet, comfortable, and without distraction.
    For most people, first thing in the morning works best. For those with young kids, naptime might be the most realistic time. For others, a lunch break, after work, or right before you go to bed works well. Feel free to experiment until you find what works for you. 
  2. Start with 10 minutes 3-5 days a week. Set a timer so you’re not constantly looking at the clock. Start small and slowly increase time and frequency of days.

DURING

  1. Put your phone away (or turn it off completely!) and remove other potential distractions.
  1. Begin with a short prayer asking God to be with you, and take some deep breaths.
  1. Focus your heart with a particular verse (e.g. Ps 23:1; 37:4; 46:10; Jn 14:27; 15:4, 5.)

    Remember the main goal here is simply to “be with Jesus.” Don’t feel like you have to “do” anything. Just relax and enjoy his presence.
  1. Gently return your attention to God as distractions arise.

    And they will arise! Your mind will seize this opportunity to run wild with thoughts, feelings, memories, to-do’s, and distractions. And that’s okay. Don’t judge yourself, feel bad, give up, or worry. When you notice your mind beginning to wander, just re-center with a quick prayer based on the verse you’ve chosen above.
  1. Close your time by praying the Lord’s Prayer.

AFTER

  1. Acknowledge & address fears, cares, concerns, and worries that arose in solitude and silence. 

    What do I need to entrust to God’s care? What was hard? What was good? Where did my mind drift? If you’re a journaler (not a real word), journal and pray about those things.  
  1. Remember that the fruit of this practice is more often seen & experienced outside of the periods of silence themselves. 
  1. Remember that “succeeding” at this practice is doing it. Period. 

    All you can do is show up. Know that Jesus is with you whether you’re aware of his presence or not. Be patient. It takes some people years to get comfortable with this practice, so resist the urge to say, “I’m bad at this” or “This isn’t for me.” Don’t be hard on yourself, especially if you’re an overachiever type. 

FOR REFLECTION & DISCUSSION

  • How do you avoid or resist silence? Where does your mind go in moments of silence?
  • How and when do you resist or avoid being alone? What do you resort to doing when alone?
  • How does the idea of silence and solitude make you feel? Excited? Scared? Too busy?
  • What challenges do you face in carving out time for silence and solitude?
  • Where do you already have silence with God in your life?

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

LISTEN

READ


(1)  It’s since been beaten by a room in Building 87 at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redfield, WA.
(2)  Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New, p. 24 in The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles.
(3)  Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 15.
(4)  https://practicingtheway.org/practices/silence-solitude
(5)  Ronald Rolheiser, Prayer: Our Deepest Longing.
(6)  John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, 130.
(7)  Nouwen, 24.
(8)  Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, 15.
(9) Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, 313.
(10)  Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, 23.

Scripture & Prayer: Listening to and speaking with Jesus

By Pastor Brian Davis

Parker Palmer recounts a time in the Upper Midwest, when at the first sign of a blizzard, a farmer would tie a rope from the back door of his house to the barn as a precaution. Everyone knew stories of farmers who had gotten caught in a sudden blizzard and had no way to find their way back to their homes. Many wandered off and eventually froze to death. Some froze just feet away from their own homes without realizing how close they were to safety. 

Pete Scazzero picks up this illustration and likens our lives and our world to a blizzard. We’re overwhelmed by the amount of information coming at us, by our attempts to multitask, and by our overcommitments. We end up disoriented, confused, and eventually lost. And of course our experience of this is heightened all the more during this time of quarantine! Scazzero concludes, “We need a rope to lead us home.”(1)

The Daily Office is God’s rope to us in the midst of the blizzard. It’s God’s way to keep us rooted and grounded in Him and His Word.

What is the Daily Office?

The Daily Office (sometimes called “fixed-hour prayer,” “the Divine Office,” or “liturgy of the hours”) is the practice of stopping at set times during the day (usually morning and evening) to pray and read Scripture. It’s rooted in the fixed-hour prayer of the Old Testament (cf. Ps 119:64, Dan 6:10) that was the common practice for Jews in Jesus’ day. The early church continued to pray at set times after Jesus’ ascension (cf. Acts 3:1; 10:3, 9, 30), and Christians have been doing the same ever since. In fact, the Daily Prayer Project Prayer Guide is a form of the Daily Office with it’s schedule of both morning and evening prayer.

One of the reasons I like both the term and practice of the Daily Office is that it keeps Scripture reading and prayer together in a relationship where each practice encourages and contributes to the other. Scripture reading without prayer can become merely informational and academic. Prayer without Scripture reading can become dry and lifeless. But together they become the foundational way that we enjoy and abide in Jesus. 

So as we look at the practices of Scripture reading and prayer, we’ll do so with the Daily Prayer Project as our guide.

Reading Scripture

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 

2 Timothy 3:16-17

There are endless ways we could talk about the richness and importance of God’s Word in our life with Him, but for our purposes, let’s just focus on one: the formative power of Scripture in our lives. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul describes Scripture as “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” with the result that one is “complete, equipped for every good work.” As we give ourselves to the regular reading of Scripture, God, by His Spirit, makes us more like Jesus. We begin to experience God’s renewal of our minds, our wills, our hearts, and our loves. We taste and see that He really is good, that His steadfast love really does endure forever, and that He really will keep His promises to us. We begin to view our lives, our mission, and our world through the lens of God’s great story of redemption in Jesus. 

But maybe most gloriously, in and through Scripture we actually commune with Jesus. In John 15:7, Jesus connects abiding in him with abiding in his Word. The two are intimately bound together. To dwell with Jesus is to dwell in his Word. There is no substitute for regular Scripture reading in our life with Jesus.

How can we begin to read Scripture regularly? By utilizing the Daily Prayer Project Prayer Guide. Commit to reading at least the Psalm and New Testament passage appointed each day. If you’re able, read the Old Testament passage as well.

Meditating on Scripture

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of waterthat yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.In all that he does, he prospers.”

Psalm 1:1-3

Donald Whitney calls the practice of meditation the “missing link” between Scripture reading and prayer.(2) Meditation is a slow, deliberate, prayerful reading of a small portion of Scripture. The focus is not so much on studying the Word as much as it is engaging prayerfully with the Word. This practice is particularly helpful in our Reformed theological tradition that (rightly!) takes the study of Scripture so seriously. Meditation helps us go from knowing about the God of the Bible to actually knowing and enjoying the God of the Bible. So you might take a verse like John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love,” and rather than merely studying the love of Jesus for you, you begin to prayerfully experience the love of Jesus for you. 

Historically, this kind of sacred reading is called Lectio Divina, which is Latin for “divine reading.” Lectio Divina is composed of four steps:

  1. Reading
    Read the passage slowly several times. Try reading both silently and out loud. Notice the words, images, and phrases that the Lord brings to your attention.
  1. Meditating
    Focus on the word, image, or phrase that stood out to you. Consider how it applies to your life with Jesus. Mull it over and chew on it. Allow your emotions to be engaged. 
  1. Praying
    Engage intimately and honestly with God. Reflect on what stood out to you and why. Bring that to the Lord in prayer.
  1. Contemplating
    Contemplate God Himself as He’s revealed in the portion of Scripture you’ve selected. Enjoy communion with Him.

As you might imagine, you could spend a long time on each of these steps, and hopefully, there will be times when you do. But you can also spend as little as a few minutes for the entire process. Remember we want to engage in these practices in realistic, sustainable ways.

How can we begin to meditate on Scripture? Meditate on a particular verse or passage from the Daily Prayer Project Scripture passages for that day. Do this during the “Abiding” section of Morning Prayer. 

Praying Scripture

Whatever else it may be, prayer is first and foremost an act of love. Before any pragmatic, utilitarian, or altruistic motivations, prayer is born of a desire to be with Jesus. His incomparable wisdom, compelling beauty, irresistible goodness, and unrestricted love lure us into the quiet of our hearts where he dwells. To really love someone implies a natural longing for presence and intimate communion.”

Brennan Manning

One of the great gifts Jesus gives is his personal presence with us, and the central place to enjoy his presence is in prayer. But prayer is hard. It’s hard to slow down. It’s hard to believe he hears us. It’s hard to know what to say and how to do it. 

For all of these reasons, one of the best practices for us is praying Scripture–especially the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray Scripture, we take the very words of the Holy Spirit on our lips. God Himself teaches us to pray and gives words to our prayers. As He does, He makes us more into the image of Jesus. Prayer–like Scripture reading–is formative. Brian Zahnd writes, “When it comes to spiritual formation, we are what we pray.”(3)

It might initially seem that praying Scripture would be less personal and intimate than extemporaneous prayer, but that’s not the case. When we pray Scripture, we create space for greater intimacy with God. How so? By praying Scripture–especially the Psalms–we give words to the full spectrum of emotions in our life with God. Scripture invites us to bring our joy and gratitude, our sorrow and lament, our fear and frustration, to Jesus. All of these emotions (and more!) are found in the Psalms. With Scripture as our guide, we’re led to places of deeply personal, honest, and intimate prayer with Jesus. 

How can we begin to pray Scripture? Pray the Psalm of the day and the Lord’s Prayer as a part of the Daily Prayer Project. Allow those passages to be jumping off points for extemporaneous prayer.

PRACTICE OF THE WEEK:  Use the Daily Prayer Project Prayer Guide

FOR REFLECTION & DISCUSSION:

  • How would you characterize the way you tend to read? How has the way you read Scripture been influenced by your reading habits in general?
  • What are your main obstacles to reading and meditating on Scripture? 
  • What is the greatest struggle in your prayer life?
  • How would you describe the prayer life with God that you desire? 
  • How might your prayer life change if you frame it in terms of enjoying your relationship with Jesus?

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Listen:

  • LECTURE: “Word: Reading, Memorizing, & Meditating” and the accompanying handout
    • This lecture is the second week of a six-week seminar on Spiritual Formation called “Formed in Christ” that I did at Trinity in the spring of 2016.
  • LECTURE: “Prayer” and the accompanying handout
    • This lecture is the third week of a six-week seminar on Spiritual Formation called “Formed in Christ” that I did at Trinity in the spring of 2016.
  • Dwell Audio Bible App – temporarily FREE for our church here.
    • I’m not usually a big fan of audio Bible apps. This one is different. The multiple options and ease of this app have made it something I’ve really enjoyed during quarantine.

Read:


(1) Recounted in Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 153-154.
(2) Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 71
(3) Brian Zahnd, Water to Wine, 75.

Rule of Life: Ordering our lives to be with Jesus

By Pastor Brian

One of my favorite quotes from Dallas Willard (which is saying something because I love so much of what he wrote!) comes from a conversation he had with a pastor named John Ortberg. Ortberg was pastoring a large, growing church in the late 90s but came to realize he was unhealthy in multiple parts of his life—unhealthy spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. So he called his mentor Willard, described his situation, and asked what he should do. Willard replied, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Ortberg jots that down, and asks, “Okay, what else?” Willard replied, “There is nothing else. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”(1) 

When I read that, it resonated deeply with me. I know the hurry and busyness that characterize my own life and heart—and I know what that hurry and busyness does to my life with Jesus. I know what it does to my relationship with my wife and kids. I know what it does to my soul. And I’m guessing you can relate. Even in quarantine when we don’t have anywhere to go, we can still find ways to hurry! To avoid slowing down. To stay busy and distracted. We’ll look more at what’s beneath our hurry and busyness in the weeks to come when we explore the practices of Silence & Solitude and Sabbath, but this week, I want us to see that hurry and busyness undercut our attempts to cultivate a rich life with Jesus, which is just one reason we need a Rule of Life.

What is a Rule of Life?

The word “rule” comes from the Latin word “regula,” which literally means “a straight piece of wood,” but it’s also the word used for a trellis. So think for a moment about what a trellis does for a vine: it supports and provides structure for the vine to grow. Without a trellis, a vine will stop growing, begin to wither, and eventually die. This image becomes even more vivid when we recall the passage we looked at in last week’s post from John 15:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” -John 15:4-5 

Jesus’ fundamental call to us is to abide in him. To be with him. To find our life in him. A Rule of Life helps us order our life in such way to make that possible. It’s the trellis that enables us to abide in Jesus. John Mark Comer writes, “What a trellis is to a vine, a rule of life is to abiding. It’s a structure—in this case a schedule and a set of practices—to set up abiding as the central pursuit of your life. It’s a way to organize all of your life around the practice of the presence of God, to work and rest and play and eat and drink and hang out with your friends and run errands and catch up on the news, all out of a place of deep, loving enjoyment of the Father’s company.”(2)

Pete Scazzero defines it this way: “A Rule of Life, very simply, is an intentional, conscious plan to keep God at the center of everything we do.”(3) 

A number of things to note: 

First, a Rule of Life is a means to an end. The end is enjoying and abiding with Jesus! A Rule of Life helps us create space to cultivate our relationship with him. It’s a means to that end.    

Secondly, a Rule of Life encompasses the whole of your life. In other words, it’s not just a schedule pertaining to your spiritual practices. A Rule of Life includes your mind, your body, your relationships, your habits, your patterns of work and rest, and all other parts that constitute you as a person. This is important to recognize, because one of the greatest challenges of engaging in spiritual practices is seeing how they fit into the whole of our lives. For example, I might have great aspirations to incorporate more prayer, Bible reading, and silence & solitude into my life with Jesus, but the reality is that’ll never happen unless the number of hours I’m spending at work or watching Netflix or scrolling Instagram changes. Developing a Rule of Life helps you to look at your life as a whole and see the ways our life with Jesus is connected to things like our sleep habits, our use of technology, our work schedule, etc. In this way, a well constructed rule can help slow us down to love God and love people in a way that would otherwise be impossible.

Thirdly, you already have a functional Rule of Life. The problem is that it’s probably not conscious and intentional! We unconsciously engage in all kinds of practices every day that shape our hearts, habits, and loves. As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor and with both hands at sections of time.” The advantage of an intentionally planned Rule of Life is that it guards us from living lives that we don’t actually want to live. It helps us organize our days in a way that keeps enjoying and abiding with Jesus in the central place.

Fourthly, a Rule of Life provides the structure we need in quarantine. Our normal schedules and rhythms of life were thrown off completely when this quarantine began, and so we have both a need and an opportunity to put some key practices in place. A Rule of Life is a much needed tool for us right now!

How can we develop a Rule of Life?

“A good rule can set us free to be our true and best selves. It is a working document, a kind of spiritual budget, not carved in stone but subject to regular review and revision. It should support us, but never constrict us.” 
Margaret Guenther

There’s no single “correct” way to do a Rule of Life. Your Rule will depend on your age, your stage of life, your personality, your work schedule, how long you’ve walked with Jesus, what drains you and what gives you life, whether you’re a morning person or a night owl. You’ll find some practical steps in the Practice of the Week section below, but here are some general principles to keep in mind:(4)

Start small & simple. There’s a real temptation to develop an overly-ambitious Rule of Life that looks great on paper but is totally unrealistic in practice. Select some practices that are doable for you right now. You can always add more.

Take into account your stage of life. The young mother’s Rule of Life who has three children under the age of five is going to look very different from that of the retired grandfather. Similarly, the Rule of Life of one who became a Christian six months ago will look different from one who has been following Jesus for 50 years.

Be flexible. Developing a Rule of Life that fits you is a process of trial and error, so feel free to experiment until you find what works for you.

Be specific. Try for practices that are practical, concrete, and embodied, not vague and ideological, e.g. “Sabbath on Sundays” not “rest more.”

Include these basics. While there will be great variation in the Rules of Life of Trinity members, I encourage you to include at least these three: Scripture & Prayer(5), Silence & Solitude, and Sabbath. These are spiritual practices that I believe to be nearly essential to our life with Jesus. We’ll look at these in greater detail in the coming weeks, but try to include them as you’re developing your Rule. 

PRACTICE OF THE WEEK: Create your own personal rule of life.

STEP #1: Spend some time looking at the resources linked below. Choose the worksheet or workbook that best fits you and your life.

  • Crafting a Personal Rule of Life” from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
    The Scazzeros provide some great questions that help you identify life-giving and life-depleting practices that are unique to you. Their Rule of Life worksheet is the last page of this pdf and suggests four quadrants through which to view your life: Relationships, Prayer, Rest, and Work.
  • Developing a Personal Rule of Life Workbook” from Bridgetown Church.
    Bridgetown Church has put together a holistic and user-friendly workbook to help you construct your Rule of Life. They have some wonderful questions and suggested practices that are worth considering.
  • Rule of Life Worksheet 
    This is a basic worksheet that I put together, and it’s about as simple as it gets. If you choose to use this worksheet, consider working through the questions from the EHS document or Bridgetown workbook to help you determine what to include. 
  • Weaving Together Your Personal Rule of Life,” Stephen Macchia.
    Another basic worksheet. Similar to the one above, if you choose to use this worksheet, consider working through the questions from the EHS document or Bridgetown workbook to help you determine what to include.

STEP #2: Prayerfully reflect upon and answer the questions from the EHS document or Bridgetown Workbook.

STEP #3: Draft your Rule of Life. Fill in each category on the chart of your choosing. By the way, forcing yourself to fit your Rule of Life onto a single page will help ensure that you’ve constructed something that’s both realistic and doable for you.

STEP #4: Discuss your Rule of Life with your roommate, spouse, or some other member of your household. If you live alone, discuss it with a friend who knows you well. Invite them to speak into what you’ve written.

STEP #5: Try it out. Spend a few weeks with it, and revise as needed. If you find it to be overwhelming or unrealistic in certain ways, then change those parts.

GIVE YOURSELF TONS OF GRACE! Remember that a Rule of Life is a means to an end and not the end itself! The end is abiding with Jesus—the one who loves you and has given himself for you. And his love for you isn’t dependent upon how well you keep your Rule of Life!

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Listen:

Read:


(1) John Mark Comer recounts this story on pp. 18-19 of his great book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.
(2) Ibid., 95.
(3) Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 196.
(4) Based on Bridgetown Church’s “Developing a Personal Rule of Life Workbook.”
(5) I’m counting Scripture and prayer as one practice for the sake of convenience. They’re best practiced in conjunction with one another, which is why, for example, the Daily Prayer Project prayer guide contains elements of both prayer and Scripture reading throughout.

Introduction to Spiritual Formation: Becoming Like Jesus

By Pastor Brian

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

The Need & the Opportunity of Our Present Situation

If somebody had told you on March 10th that due to a global pandemic, you’d be spending at least the next month of your life quarantined in your home, leaving only for “essential” tasks, you probably would’ve thought that person was crazy or at least a little paranoid. We’re now over a month into that scenario, and it’s impacting every aspect of our lives—including our life with God. For many of us, this situation has exposed both a real need and a real opportunity in our life with Jesus.

The need is probably pretty obvious. We’re overrun with stress, grief, anxiety, financial uncertainty, relational strain, and loneliness. Maybe we’re feeling a lack in our spiritual life that’s showing itself in this hard time. As a result, we’re feeling our need of Jesus more deeply. 

But our situation has also brought a real opportunity. While not all of us feel like we have more free time (I’m looking at you parents of young children trying to work from home!), many of us do have greater control over how we use our time. You’re not commuting to work right now. You’re not having dinner with friends. There are no baseball practices or band rehearsals to attend. There are no sports on TV, and by this point—let’s be honest—you’ve watched everything on Netflix that you really want to! That freedom with our time opens up new possibilities for us. We’ve been given a chance to hit the reset button on the shape of our life with Jesus. We’ve now got a real opportunity (and need!) to return to some of the basic practices of following Jesus and to incorporate them into our lives.

So over the next five weeks, we’ll look at some of the essential practices that enable us to know, love, and enjoy Jesus. Every Monday we’ll post a short article about one practice, give you some recommendations on how to incorporate it into your life, and then point you in the direction of some resources for further study. Here’s the tentative schedule:

Week 1 – Introduction to Spiritual Formation: Becoming like Jesus
Week 2 – Rule of Life: Ordering our lives to be with Jesus
Week 3 – Bible & Prayer: Listening to and speaking with Jesus
Week 4 – Silence & Solitude: Being with Jesus
Week 5 – Sabbath: Resting in Jesus

Introduction to Spiritual Formation: Becoming like Jesus

Let’s start with a basic explanation of what spiritual formation is. First, the term “Spiritual Formation” is just a general way to talk about discipleship, growth, sanctification, becoming like Jesus, etc. At Trinity, we often use the language of spiritual formation, because it highlights the Holy Spirit’s formative role in our lives. Here’s an attempt at a working definition: Spiritual formation is the process by which God renews His image in us by making us more like Jesus through the ongoing work of his Spirit.

The assumption, of course, is that we need to be transformed. God’s image needs to be renewed in us, which taps into the bigger story of the Bible. The Bible begins with God creating us as His image bearers to dwell with Him, with one another, and with the world around us in joyful wholeness (Gen 1-2). But in our sin, we rejected this God of love and have marred His image in us (Gen 3). We’ve plunged God’s good world into a state of sin and brokenness, and we stand justly condemned before Him (Rom 3:23; Eph 2:1-3). But the good news (literally, “Gospel”) of the Bible is that God didn’t leave us there! He sent His Son Jesus to live, die, and be raised for us. When we trust Jesus by faith, we are united to him, and every blessing of his life, death, and resurrection comes to us in and through our union with him (Eph 2:4-10). God is now at work remaking His image in us (2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:9-10). So God not only deals with the legal problem of our sin by forgiving us and imputing Christ’s righteousness to us; he also deals with the experiential problem of our sin by bringing about real transformation in our lives.

How does God bring about that transformation? The most central place is in gathered Sunday worship where we pray together, hear His Word together, and come to His Table together. He also does this through our Community Groups and other gathered times of prayer, fellowship, Bible study, and service. But the focus of this series will be on individual spiritual practices

What are Spiritual Practices?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” -John 15:4-5

One of most illustrative images of our life with Jesus is found in John 15. Jesus tells us that he is the vine, and we are the branches. As branches, we share in the very life of the vine—the life that Jesus describes in John 10:10 as “abundant life” or “life to the full.” We are in him, and he is in us.

In this passage, Jesus describes both a potential problem and a promise of spiritual formation. The problem is one with which we’re all familiar: attempting to pursue real change apart from him. Jesus says we have no hope of bearing any fruit unless we’re abiding in the vine. And for many of us, that’s the struggle when it comes to spiritual formation. We try to follow Jesus and become like him by sheer willpower, but we fail over and over. So most of us end up frustrated and disappointed, and we start to wonder whether any kind of real change is even possible. The reality is that on your own, you can’t change yourself—at least not in any lasting way. Why not? Because you can’t change your own heart. That’s part of what Jesus means when he says that apart from him you can do nothing. That might sound discouraging, but the opposite is true! Jesus knows that lasting change apart from him is impossible, and so he gives us a better way, which is his promise in spiritual formation.

The promise of spiritual formation is that real change is possible. Jesus promises that as we abide in him, we will bear fruit. The key is abiding. What does it mean to abide? J. C. Ryle describes it beautifully: “Abide in Me, cling to Me, stick fast to Me, live the life of close and intimate communion with Me, get nearer and nearer to Me, roll every burden on Me, cast your whole weight on Me, never let go your hold on Me for a moment.” So how do we do that? In the language of our core commitments, we do that by engaging in formative spiritual practices. Spiritual practices are the means by which we “abide in the vine.” They are the ways we open ourselves to the transforming power of the life of the vine. They are ways we put ourselves in a position to be changed by God’s Spirit. So while we do put forth effort to engage in spiritual practices, Jesus is the one who ultimately brings about change. Richard Foster writes, “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.” Spiritual practices enable us to experience change that we could never bring about on our own through our own direct effort. 

One final point: Spiritual practices are more than just learning new information. There’s a real temptation (especially in our Reformed theological tradition) to think that you just need to read the next book, listen to the next lecture, or attend the next seminar to experience real change. Don’t misunderstand me—I love to read, and we do need our thinking to be changed. But the point is that’s not all you need. You can’t merely think your way into a changed life. Why not? Because you are an embodied soul whose heart, desires, emotions, and thoughts need to be transformed. We need embodied practices that engage our whole person, which is what we get in spiritual practices. Here’s Dallas Willard’s definition of these practices: “The disciplines are activities of mind and body purposely undertaken, to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order. They enable us more and more to live in a power that is, strictly speaking, beyond us, deriving from the spiritual realm itself.”

As we abide in Jesus, we really will bear fruit. We really will experience change. We really will enjoy the abundant life that is ours in him.

PRACTICE OF THE WEEK: Reflect upon, discuss, and journal answers to the following questions.

  • What are your biggest obstacles to growth in Jesus?
  • In what areas of your life do you find it particularly difficult to follow Jesus?
  • How would you describe your spiritual life right now? Where are you discouraged? Where are you encouraged?
  • What do you long for in your relationship with Jesus?
  • Write a prayer to the Lord based on the way you answered the previous question. Feel free to use John 15:4-5 as a guide.

For Further Study

LISTEN:

Introduction to Spiritual Formation,” Brian Davis

READ: