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Archive for August, 2014

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For today’s blog, I want to share a little early morning “pep talk” from an Orthodox Archbishop, Anthony Bloom (taken from “Beginning to Pray,” pp. 75-77). It will get you going!

“Awake in the morning and the first thing you do, thank God for it, even if you don’t feel particularly happy about the day which is to come. ‘This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be grateful in it.’

Once you have done this, give yourself time to realize the truth of what you are saying and really mean it – perhaps on the level of deep conviction and not of what one might call exhilaration.

Then get up, wash, clean, do whatever else you have to do, and then come to God again. Come to God with two convictions. The one is that you are God’s own and the other is that this day is also God’s own.

(The day) is absolutely new, absolutely fresh. It has never existed before. To speak in Russian terms, it is like a vast expanse of unsoiled snow. No one has trodden on it yet. It is all virgin and pure in front of you.

 And now, what comes next? Ask God to bless this day, that everything in it should be blessed and ruled by Him. After that you must take it seriously, because very often one says, ‘O God, bless me,’ and having got the blessing we act like the prodigal son – we collect all our goods and go to a strange country to lead a riotous life.

 This day is blessed by God. It is God’s own and now let us go into it. You walk in this day as God’s own messenger. Whomever you meet, you meet in God’s own way. You are there to be the presence of the Lord God, the presence of Christ, the presence of the Spirit, the presence of the Gospel. This is your function on this particular day.

 As to the day, if you accept that this day was blessed of God, chosen by God with His own hand, then every person you meet is a gift of God, every circumstance you will meet is a gift of God, whether it is bitter or sweet, whether you like or dislike it. It is God’s own gift to you and if you take it that way, then you can face any situation.

 But you must face it with the readiness that anything may happen, whether you enjoy it or not. Then you can make prayer and life really like the two sides of one coin. You act and pray in one breath, as it were, because all the situations that follow one another require God’s blessing.”

This is mindset of a Whole Life Worshiper: every day a gift from God, every day lived in God, every day transformed by God, and every day being an extension of the blessing of God to others. So let’s go into the day with that mindset and see the wonders of God working in, around and through us!

Ready? …. Break!!

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heart-of-worship

One of my whole life worship friends, Diane, shared with me how worshiping the Lord helps her to abide. She writes:

Finding time to worship everyday helps me to abide especially when the storms of life are raging around me. Christ is the eye of that storm. If I keep looking up at that circle of light in the eye of the storm instead of looking around at the dark clouds, then I know everything will be fine.

There is nothing like worshiping God, whether it is in song or a prayer of praise or in giving glory to His name with our bodies (standing, kneeling, lifting our hands). Worship is an act of faith, responding to who God is or what He has done. And in that act of faith, God’s presence is not just honored, but sometimes it is revealed. That’s when the “abiding” begins.

Our perspective begins to change. The things of the world, whether they are dark clouds of being overwhelmed or the grey fog of confusion or the beige-like “blahness” of going through the motions, move to the periphery and we begin to see light. We get our bearings; our compass is recalibrated from the illusions of worldly values and standards to the true North of Christ and His ways. And we begin to see the Light that gives life to our souls.

Some of us enjoy singing to God – the most popular form of worship. And I highly recommend taking some time to sing praises to God during the day. And if you can’t sing, you can hum or whistle (which my wife loves to do). Turn on your iPod and play some praise music – and join in the song!

But you don’t have to be a singer to be a worshiper. As I alluded earlier, you worship whenever you respond to the Person and Work of God. I worship God when I thoughtfully read a Psalm (especially the ones that are a part of the Daily Office). Just before I started writing this, I prayed the mid-day office. I paused and reflected and glorified God after each phrase. It took about 10 minutes. But it made a difference.

Or you can worship God by reciting a simple prayer of surrender, recognizing His greatness, His goodness, while confessing your dependency on Him. The “Jesus Prayer” is a great example of such a simple prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”) You can pray that in your car or at your desk or when you are walking across the hall.

The abiding that leads to abounding doesn’t have to be hours of profound intimacy with God. It can be a moment before you do each task. It’s about finding simple ways of getting “God on your mind, Christ in your heart and the Spirit flowing through your body.” And worship is the best way to start.

How do you get God more into your day?

What helps you to worship God in everyday moments?

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Breath Prayer

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Last night I woke up at 3am in a panic. Something just gripped my mind and heart as I was filled with anxiety. A small, still Voice told me, “Just breathe … and pray.” So I took deep breaths. I tried praying the Jesus prayer, but it was too long. All that could come out was, “Jesus, have mercy on this sinner.” So each breath I prayed, “Jesus, have mercy on this sinner” over and over and over again. Sure enough, God showed mercy on this sinner. The anxiety lifted, perspective was granted, and peace came.

I was reminded of the power of the “Breath Prayer.” The breath prayer is a short prayer (a few words long) that fits in the moment of a breath. In some ways, breath prayer is one of the ways we can seek to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:18) as breathing is something we do all the time. You can pray it aloud or in your mind. Breath prayer is the quickest and most effective discipline to get me back “in touch” with God. It is also the most rhythmic and portable spiritual practice. It aligns with the tempo of physical inhalation and exhalation. And you can pray a breath prayer anytime, anywhere.

Depending on the situation, the breath prayer can be a desperate and immediate cry for help (like my 3am attack) or it can be a long-range desire or petition. One of my long-term breath prayers is “Lord, help me to love as You do,” as God helped me to realize my deficiency in my life (and, interestingly enough, also my deepest desire). Or if someone you know has a great need, you can do powerful intercession through a breath prayer (“Lord, grant grace to _______” or “Draw ________ with Your love” or “Give _______ wisdom”).

The power in the breath prayer is repetition. You pray it over and over and over again. You can pray a breath prayer 20 times a minute. You can engage in this prayer several times a day. You can pray it in your car or waiting in the checkout line at the store. Like the relentless prayer of the widow in Luke 18:1-3, breath prayer is a way to keep knocking on the door until something happens.

Many authors have written great stuff about the power of breath prayer. Richard Foster (“Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home”) mentions a dual-breath prayer that utilizes the power of inhalation (“Fill me, Holy Spirit”) and exhalation (“I empty _____ from my soul”). Ruth Haley Barton (“Sacred Rhythms”) advocates finding a breath prayer that captures your deepest desires and longings as revealed by the Holy Spirit. She describes this as a “gut prayer” because it is a prayer that requires little thought, but deep soulfulness.

Most of all, you don’t have to be a spiritual giant or a theological scholar to pray a breath prayer. It’s a prayer that anyone can pray at anytime. It is a prayer that God hears, certainly. Like the power of water in erosion, persistent breath prayers can dramatically change the contour of situations, hearts, and societies.

But even more important, God uses breath prayer to shape our hearts and souls. It refines our motives, desires and petitions. It helps us to practice perseverance. It brings us to the throne of God at times that we normally might not even think about God – during our everyday ordinary daytime hours or in the wee hours of the night.  As the name of God is on our breath, His presence comes into our thoughts and His peace enters our hearts. Breath prayer postures us to constantly offer our lives and our desires to God. Breath prayer aligns us for Whole Life Worship.

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As we seek to worship God with our everyday ordinary lives, one of the biggest hurdles to meaningful connection is when we encounter those situations that overwhelm us: trials, conflicts, roadblocks, setbacks and the like. Usually, there are strong emotions that accompany these events, like fear, anger, anxiety, sorrow or discouragement. If you’re like me (which I suspect you are), we tend to react to these emotions. I’ll either push them away or compensate for them or try to fix them (both the situation and/or the emotion). This usually leads me to make poor decisions that lead me away from the ways of God.

The Psalmist prays, “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps 61:3). Peter elaborates on this by writing, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus taught his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Me” (John 14:1). Scripture also affirms to render “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

One way that has helped me to deal with overwhelming situations and to turn them over to God is the spiritual practice of “Welcoming Prayer.”

Welcoming Prayer is where I welcome things into my soul that are “unwelcomable”; namely, unwelcome emotions that are negative and uncomfortable. It is very counterintuitive, in that I usually avoid or try to get rid of these emotions at all cost. However, we all know that, in spite of our best efforts to get rid of these emotions, they never really go away – and when they come back, they come with a vengeance! So welcoming prayer actually helps us to deal with these emotions as they come to us, which is so much better than putting them off. But we deal with them in God’s presence.

There are three movements to Welcoming Prayer:

1. Welcoming. As the emotion comes to me, I welcome it to my soul. I say (sometimes aloud), “Welcome, Fear” or “Welcome, Anxiety” or “Welcome, Insecurity.” But I also invite the Holy Spirit to come and stand with my soul.

2. Noticing. I do not react to the emotion, but I notice how it is manifesting itself in my body. I will feel something in my stomach. I might feel tension in my neck or my jaw. Perhaps the hair on the back of my neck stands on end. Noticing these things keeps me from reacting to the emotion (which defeats the purpose because that’s what it wants me to do), and gives the Holy Spirit some time and space to move in my soul. Often I will name the physical sensation

3. Surrendering. When I have sufficiently described how the emotion is being manifested, I begin the process of surrendering. I surrender my need for survival, security, approval, affection, power, control, and to change the situation/person/event etc. This is where I also make declarations of who God/Christ is in my life: my Provider, Lover of my Soul, and Sovereign over all things. In this movement, I am transferring my trust and worship from the source of those emotions back to God. Usually during this part of the prayer, I will begin to feel the physical manifestations of worry and fear leaving my body.

What makes this prayer so powerful is that, although the situation hasn’t changed, my perspective and my position has. Instead of being overcome by the emotions, I am in a place of trust and confidence in the loving arms of God. By welcoming these thoughts and emotions – and not reacting to them – the Spirit of God renders them captive to the obedience of Christ. I am then in a position to hear from God as to what my next step in this situation is, rather than running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

I am still very much a beginner in this prayer, but I’ve already seen powerful results. I’m already praying this prayer several times a day because I find it to be so transforming and renewing. More than anything else, it always leads me back to whole life worship of God.

So, try it in your life situations … and tell me know how it goes!

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Yesterday, I preached a sermon on “Worship in the Everyday Ordinary. It expands some of the thoughts I shared earlier this morning. Click here to stream the podcast. Enjoy!

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A busy street in Sydney, Australia

Many Christians find it difficult to integrate their spirituality into daily life. Exercising spirituality in the interior world of Personal Worship Time is safe and comfortable. It is relatively easy to worship the Lord in the protective confines of solitude. However, it amazes me how quickly meaningful spiritual focus is lost once I encounter the “real world” of freeway traffic, overbearing bosses, dysfunctional family members, economic stresses, project deadlines, and rude people. It is hard to maintain attitudes of humility and surrender in the “dog-eat-dog” mentality that pervades our workplaces, schools, and marketplaces. It is difficult to sense the love and peace of Christ when the daily circumstances we face are filled with spite, uncertainty, or tension. Even in the positive environments that some are fortunate enough to enjoy, the day to day routine and grind can lull us far away from the thoughts of God and the fact that we belong to him.

The authentic integration of Christian spirituality into everyday life is one of the main issues the Whole Life Worship paradigm addresses. We bring the “stuff of life” into our spirituality in the movement of Whole Life Worship I call the Everyday Ordinary. I want to make clear that the Everyday Ordinary is not about “singing songs to Jesus throughout the day” or “praising my Savior all the day long,” although music and an attitude of praise can contribute to this way of worship. Nor is it a “hermit mentality” where people try to disengage themselves from the world (physically or psychologically) in order to maintain connection with God. Nor is it a discipleship model that tries to exercise Christian standards and practices through will power alone.

Worship in the Everyday Ordinary integrates Romans 12:1-2, into daily life, whereby typical “everyday, ordinary” daily decisions, interactions, and events become acts of worship consciously surrendered to God. Worship in the Everyday Ordinary proactively invites the Holy Spirit’s power and wisdom into these life events to transform both the worshipers and the situations they face. This is where the “rubber” of faith meets the “road” of life. It brings the motivational power of worship into our discipleship, and our following of Jesus into actual daily life experiences.

There are three main ways we enter into Everyday Ordinary worship of God. One way is through practicing the presence of God in our daily tasks. This is a mindset (which comes from Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived 500 years ago) where we look at everything we do to the glory of God – whether that be filing paper work, attending school, driving our cars (ouch!), buying groceries, supervising people, or watching our kids play soccer. Every act is an act of worship. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

A second way of entering into this movement is making proactive connections with God throughout the day. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.” While this is a daunting expectation, it serves as a vision statement for how we can connect with God. We can connect with God more frequently – especially if we plan on it. One method I’ve used is to set my watch on “chime” mode. Every hour, my watch would beep, reminding me to make a conscious connection with God – even if it was just a one sentence breath prayer like “Thank you, Lord, for being with me now.” A new way I proactively connect with God is praying the daily office at various times of the day. Or you can put a penny in your shoe and every time you feel it, lift up a prayer to God.

Finally, a third pathway is to invite God into an everyday ordinary moment and watch Him transform it into a holy moment. This is called the Sacrament of the present moment (from Jean-Pierre DeCassaude). This is particularly effective when you face a trial or obstacle in your daily life. When I’ve faced unpleasant tasks that are hard, I’ve found that when I invite the Lord into those moments that the task becomes easier and actually fun. He does make our yoke easy and our burden light – if we let him. Sometimes a really bad scenario becomes redemptive and amazing because we invite Jesus into it. We see the power of God in our circumstances because we are giving Him the space and the opportunity to do it. But more importantly, worship in the everyday ordinary transforms me. Those one second moments to pause in prayer and surrender often make the difference on whether I am following Christ or the world’s mold.

While it is possible to experience transformation in corporate worship and in personal worship, many of our significant transformational moments can only happen in the crucible of our everyday, ordinary lives. It is within the context of home, work, school, relationships, marketplace, leisure, and transit that we find the raw material for becoming Christ-like. Sometimes God miraculously works quickly; at other times, more slowly. The common denominator is a will wholly submitted to God. The attitude of Whole Life Worship (offering our lives to God as living sacrifices) within the events of the everyday ordinary, invites the presence of God to transform powerfully, both ourselves and our situations. This leads to more authentic worship of God, for we celebrate and praise God when we experience the Divine at work in and through our everyday lives. Worship in the everyday ordinary simply makes these transforming moments more available and possible.

Father, may everything we do begin with your inspiration and continue with your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in you and through you reach completion. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (taken from the “Divine Office – Morning Prayer for Feb 11, 2013”)

What helps you to re-connect with God in the midst of daily activities?

When have you experienced transformation as a result of turning to God in an everyday ordinary event?

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I use an approach called “Lectio Divina” when I have my Scripture time in Personal Worship. Lectio Divina (which means “Divine Reading”) was a spiritual discipline developed by St. Benedict in the 5th Century. Its application is varied, depending on the tradition, and I view it a principle than an exact methodology. The main thrust behind Lectio Divina is to allow God to speak and guide us during the reading. That is why I use it: it is very much aligned to the concept of Whole Life Worship, especially to how I view Personal Worship time. Lectio Divina keeps the discipline of Scripture reading focused on the relational aspect of Personal Worship. It helps me to anticipate God speaking to me through His written Word.

In Lectio Divina (LD) there are four readings of a short Scripture passage (6-8 verses or a paragraph or short section) that lead into four reflections. Narrative passages (like Gospels, Acts, or OT stories) work best with LD. This is because the narratives are stories that allow for different angles and perspectives that the Holy Spirit uses to speak to our hearts. However, I’ve used LD for non-narrative passages of Scripture (like Pauline epistles and Psalms) and, though it requires a little more care, it has been helpful.

1. The first reading is called the “Lectio.” The purpose of this reading is just to expose ourselves to the Word. I find it helpful to read this reading aloud. In the first 15 centuries of the church, most Christians only “heard” the Word of God. Reading aloud and hearing Scripture is a totally different dynamic than visually reading it; especially when it is read with intention and with the emotion associated with the text. After reading it aloud, I just let it sit in my soul for a few moments of silence. Certain words or phrases stick out and I make note of that.

2. The second reading is called the “Meditatio.” As you could guess, this reading is about meditating on certain thoughts; ruminating them in my soul. As I read the passage again (either aloud or visually), I ask the Holy Spirit to move in my soul at the places where I need to focus my attention. Often it is the phrase or word that stood out to me during the Lectio reading. The reflection time after this is longer as I ponder the meaning of the text and what the Spirit is leading me to focus on.

3. The third reading is called the “Oratio.” This is the Latin word for “prayer.” In this reading, I ask the Holy Spirit to give me a holy “desire” from this passage. I notice what might be lacking in my life (love, wisdom, courage, faith, hunger for righteousness, etc.) as I read the passage again. My reflection time becomes a prayer, an intercession, a petition – most of the time for my own transformation, but sometimes He will lead me to pray for another person. This is usually a very powerful time as I sense my will is converging with the Father’s will.

4. The fourth reading is called the “Contemplatio.” You can guess that this is where the word, “contemplation” comes from. But most of us might not know that contemplation, in the Christian sense, means “union.” After the fourth reading, the focus of reflection is simply being present to the Lord. Being somewhat new to the process of LD, I find that this is mostly a time of waiting for me. Every once in a while there will be a sense of union with Christ (something that is incredibly wonderful!) but more often than not, I will not experience this. I believe I am learning to condition my soul to not look for the “experience” but to get to the place where I simply “belong” to the Lover of my Soul.

Lectio Divina is not for everyone. It is just one way to approach Scripture in Personal Worship. But at this stage of my journey, I find it powerful and transformative. Most of all, it puts the focus on Him as my teacher and instiller of the Word of God in my life.

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