Comment Policy

The most valuable aspect of spiritual growth is being able to do it in a community and a community is just what I hope this blog may become! The comment section is a great place to foster this kind of community as you share suggestions, encouragement, and questions about the spiritual disciplines. Yet to remain Christ-centered in the discussion, there have to be some guidelines.

  • No spam. This includes irrelevant comments and links. You can stray from the main topic some if it is still in the realm of reason and promotes helpful discussion, but useless promotion will be deleted.
  • No profanity. Stay pure in your language!
  • No offensive language. I know this can be a more grey area, but if your language does not build up or glorify God, I will not hesitate to call you out on it and request that you change the language you use in comments on my site.
  • No attacking. You may disagree with another commenter or me. Disagreeing is allowed, but I expect you to deal with your problem in an appropriate and respectful manner.
  • No discrimination based on age, race, gender, religion, nationality, or anything else.

I reserve the right to moderate all comments before they are posted on the site and make the judgement call to delete any that do not follow these standards. The first time you post a comment that does not follow these guidelines the comment will be deleted and you will receive a warning. If you continue to violate my guidelines, you may be blocked from the site.

I want this to be a place where people are encouraged to pursue God and grow with others, help me achieve this in the nature of your comments.

Thanks, friends! 🙂

Celebration of Discipline book review

Richard Foster

Richard Foster

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster has sold more than one million copies since its publication in 1978 and remains one of the core books on spiritual growth for Christians. In his book, Foster explores twelve spiritual disciplines which he divides into three categories: inward, outward and cooperate. Foster is not legalistic in practicing the disciplines, but believes that a change of heart should be lived out through actions.

Celebration of Discipline lives up to its reputation as one of the most helpful resources for practicing a Christian life. Foster does an extraordinary job addressing all twelve disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration) with fullness and clarity.

In each chapter Foster validates the use of each discipline with common sense and basic observations, evidence of the discipline being used in Jesus’ life, examples of how it has been practiced throughout the ages, and stories of his personal experiences performing the discipline. Foster also includes practical steps for incorporating the disciplines into our daily lives. His suggestions are specific and progress from beginner to experienced, making them applicable to Christians at any stage in their spiritual walk with God.

Throughout the entire book Foster writes with honesty, sharing both the rewards and difficulties of each discipline. Foster also calls for balance in everything so we never get so fixated on one discipline we neglect the others or so focused on our actions we forget the God they are meant to bring us closer to.

Celebration of Discipline covers a lot of areas and with a call to action in each chapter. For this reason, I would recommend reading only one chapter at a time to take full advantage of its depth. Many would also encourage reading it several times as reminders of how to include the disciplines in daily life. These two suggestions are complementary because each reading of the book can take months or years and chapter can stand alone as an excellent resource.

However, I would offer two warnings. First, although Foster presents steps in a progression, the last step is often far beyond what a Christian is capable of completing without years of practicing the discipline and readers should be careful not to be overwhelmed on the first reading. Second, even with Foster’s reminders not to become legalistic in practicing the disciplines, the temptation will always be close at hand. Fight it every page you read.

Celebration of Discipline lives up to its role as a classic in Christian literature. It is a helpful tool for both new and experienced Christians as they seek to grow in their understanding of God and enrich their life with him.

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Celebration of Discipline book cover.

Other resources that may accompany Celebration of Discipline:

Celebrating the Disciplines: A Journal Workbook

Richard Foster’s Study Guide for Celebration of Discipline

Do you have any suggestions of helpful resources you’ve used to guide you in practicing the spiritual disciplines?

Worship with Wow

“Wow!” My roommate and I stood at the window with our noses pressed to the glass as the thunder roared and the sky lit up with lightning. All we could say was “wow.” The thunder, “Wow!” The lightning, “Wow!” The pouring rain, “Wow!” The power of God, “Wow!”

Sometimes we try to complicate worship. God is so big and so complex that we to try to sum him up in a song or a phrase, but we will never be able to fit him into the framework of our language. We write songs, books, sermons, long conversations all trying to understand God, but the more we learn the more we discover he is too big for us. It is not wrong to endeavor to understand God more, our studies and descriptions can glorify him because it shows we consider him worthy of all our consideration, but it can also glorify him when we step back from it all and just stand jaws dropped in wonder. It is appropriate to follow the examples of the disciples who reacted to Jesus’ miracles in wonder at the understanding that this man could be the very son of God. We don’t have to create a long, wordy explanation of how amazing God is. We are allowed to just say “wow” and be amazed by him.

This has been hard for me to learn. I love words. I love rambling on a page. But there are moments in my life where I am so overwhelmed with God that I am left with no words for worship.

  • Studying the great expanses of the universe in a college astronomy class and spending most of my study time in worship that God was too much for me.
  • Storms that keep you glued to the open window taking in every sight, sound, and smell of God’s revelation of power in nature.
  • Getting to watch my nephews and niece grow up into amazing little people and being so overcome by love for them.
  • Running through the woods on my favorite trail and watching the setting sun glisten on the lake.
  • All the other times when all I’m left with is “wow” and God is glorified in my speechlessness because his greatness caused it.

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7 Strategies for Bible Study

Diligent Bible study is an important element in the Christian life. Proper study of the Bible is often overlooked by Christians today, yet God calls us to engage not only our hearts in devotion to him, but also our minds. With these helpful tools and strategies, Bible study can become much less intimidating.

1. One Sitting Readings

The Bible is first and foremost a work of literature. However, when we read it in small chunks we can often miss a lot of the literary elements that are woven throughout. It seems daunting at first, but a one-sitting reading of a book of the Bible can be very beneficial to see the themes and message more clearly. Desiring God offers an excellent chart of how long each book takes to read straight through.

2. Study the author and audience

The Bible is packed full of eternal truths for all people, however, it was also written by a specific person for a specific audience. Studying the characteristics, motivation, and history of an author and the problems and situations of the audience can aid understanding and adds to any Bible study. Blue Letter Bible has a list of all the authors of the Old and New Testament books to get you started!

3. Cultural context

Just like the the author and audience context, it is important to study a passages cultural context to truly understand it. Every passage is a fusion of eternal truths and cultural applications and one of the biggest challenges in biblical interpretation is figuring out where one ends and the other starts. If we are aware of what the culture was we can become more equipped to make these decisions with wisdom. No matter what book you are studying, The Voice has resources to help you better grasp the cultural contexts of the Bible.

4. Cross referencing

When you are confused about a passage it can sometimes be helpful to see what other passages in the Bible talk about the topic you are studying. A cross reference is a great tool for this. It provides clarity, depth, and consistency for our studies. Open Bible lets you search any Bible verse for cross references.

5. Word studies

Translators do a great job making sure to use the best words in their translations. However, even the best efforts will miss the shades of meaning that are present in the original Hebrew and Greek. Most of us are not going to learn to read the Bible in its original languages, but word studies can help. They will tell you what the word means in its original language which will enrich your understanding of every verse. The Christian Research Institute wrote an article about how to do a word study that might help get you started.

6. Commentaries

Commentaries are extremely useful in giving you a look into all the interpretations of a passage. They are written by people who have studied the Bible diligently doing all the things I have stated above and come to solid conclusions. Reading several different commentaries on a book of a Bible will give you a new perspective and help you decide what the passage means. The Bible Speaks Today is a useful commentary series edited by John Stott.

7. Community

Bible studies, small groups, accountability partners, Bible classes, Sunday School, church families, casual conversations– community is vital to a proper understanding of the Bible. Believers sharing their experiences and ideas openly and lovingly can be a powerful thing as we seek to understand the messages of the Scripture and their application on our lives. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).

There are so many ways to enhance our study of the Bible! What are some things you do when you are studying a passage?

Meditating on God’s love

Sometimes the best way to get motivated to practice the spiritual disciplines is to remember you are not alone and get some inspiration from another believer who is faithfully serving God.

Krista Bain, freshman Math Education Major at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul who serves on Northwestern’s Church Relations program Youth Crew.

Krista Bain

Krista is a freshman at the University of Northwestern — St. Paul

Q: Why do you believe it is important to meditate?

A: I feel like meditation is a really big part of who we are as Christians and a big part in our relationship with God. It’s because it is the listening and the yielding part. It’s a relationship and I feel like meditation brings that full circle and that’s why it’s really important.

Q: When did you begin practicing the discipline of meditation?

A: I started meditating when I came to college because I realized how important it was. I learned more about mediation in my Spiritual Formation class and learned how to do it. In the class I learned meditation is more like a quiet time and listening for God, it can be done through listening to music, journaling, or reading your Bible. It is just the aspect of yielding and listening to God. So often we just talk and talk to God and we don’t really listen and I think that’s a really big aspect of meditation: the listening.

Q: What is your typical routine when you meditate?

A: I start by praying and just asking God to come and reveal himself to me. Then I either listen to a song or read a Bible passage or just journaling about my day. I don’t have a specific place to meditate, but one place I really like to go is the prayer room on campus. Sometimes I just meditate in my bed before I go to sleep or other times I go outside in nature and that is a place I feel like I connect with God a lot.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced as you seek to meditate?

A: Distractions are a really big thing. When so many things are going in my brain at the same time it is hard to listen and know if it is God talking to me or if it is my own brain. I don’t know if anyone will ever know what God’s voice sounds like and I think it’s different for every person, but that is something that is hard for me because I never know what things are God and what things are my own thoughts. It is really hard to quiet everything going on in my life to just sit and listen because I have so much going on.

Q: What are some of your favorite verses in the Bible to meditate on?

A: One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I think that is a big verse for me in my life in general, but also in the meditation of my prayer life. Especially in this time in my life in college where it has been difficult to see what I want to do with my life and what God has for me here at Northwestern. It’s been a good verse to remind me to continually trust. A song that’s been cool for me is Jon Foreman’s “Your Love is Strong.” There’s a part that says, “Why should I worry? Why should I freak out? Cause God knows what I need.” It’s been a good reminder that I don’t need to worry and I don’t need to do anything, I just need to stop and trust God that his plan is for my good.

“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 water

that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does, he prospers.

-Psalm 1:2-3

Meditation, part 2

Last week we had “Sacred Space” in chapel. This is where there is no chapel speaker, no worship team, just a time of quiet reflection and prayer. The only guidance was two different chapters of scripture being read and some prompts for prayer on the projector. I let this time of reflection kick off my week of practicing the discipline of meditation.

The first chapter we were supposed to focus on was Psalm 51. It instantly caught my attention and I focused my meditation for the week on its words.

First, I familiarized myself with the chapter. I read and re-read it. I copied the whole chapter into my journal. Next, I picked out the sections that that stood out to me by underlining words and phrases and writing out specific verses. I discovered I focus on scripture best when I can process it through more than just my thoughts. I need to write it out.

Apart from my daily devotions in the word, I attempted to ponder some of the verses or words during my day. This was definitely the hardest part for me. Part of meditation is disciplining the imagination to be caught captive by the wonders of God. Meditating trains the heart to dwell on God all the time so that the idle thoughts, the typical daydream, the usual flow of ideas all go to Christ. Being aware of where my imagination took my on a daily basis revealed that I need a discipline like meditation to intentionally realign my thoughts each day.

This awareness of my failure to mediate on God’s law and works throughout my day soon made me discouraged. I wanted Psalm 51 to dictate my imagination, but it didn’t. But I saw something else emerging through my failure. Whenever I realized my thoughts were wandering and were not caught captive by God, I called to him to bring them back. I repented for my lack of discipline, I expressed a desire to know him better and find joy in who he is, and I asked him to take my thoughts. It was a humbling experience to recognize that it is not that I need better control of my thoughts, but I need God to have control of my thoughts.

This is when the words of Psalm 51 really started to have an impact:

 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight…
 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice…
 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit…
 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise…
 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
– Excerpts from Psalm 51

Through practicing this discipline I discovered the impact the Word of God can have over time. My initial reading of Psalm 51 was interesting, but the words did not start to transform my thoughts or actions until I had dwelt on them for a week. Meditating on scripture allows you to take it with you to live with it. Just as we do not truly know someone after one conversation with them but by living life with him or her in the daily grind and mountain-top moments, we do not know the Bible from just one reading but by coming back to it day after day gaining new insights and letting the Holy Spirit work it into our hearts and lives.

After my week of practicing meditation, I decided I want to integrate it into my life on a regular basis. Partly for what I gleaned in this week of practicing the discipline, and partly because I realize I need a lot more practice in order to reap the full benefits of what the discipline has to offer and one week is only scratching the surface.

 

Meditation

Only to sit and think of God,

Oh what a joy it is!

To think the thought, to breathe the Name

Earth has no higher bliss.

-Frederick W. Faber

Meditation is a lost art in the Christian life. The practice has been overtaken by Eastern religions seeking to detach themselves from present reality. Yet we have countless calls to meditate in the Bible. The Christian version of meditation is not an emptying of the mind, but it is filling the mind and heart with God’s word. One of the greatest passages on mediation is found in Psalm 119 where the psalmist says he meditates “on your precepts” (Psalms 119:15, 78), “on your statutes” (Psalm 119:23; 48), “on your wondrous works” (Psalm 119:27) and this meditation is his joy.

Meditation is a sinking into who God is and what He has done. In meditation our main goal is not to know more about God, but to let what we know penetrate the deepest source of our being and draw us into communion with and utter adoration of God. David Mathis describes the goal of meditation as making God’s words “saturate [our lives], give [us] direction, shape [our] mind, form [our] patterns, fuel [our] affections, and inspire [our] actions.” Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline says that in meditation we are aiming to “think God’s thoughts after Him, to delight in His presence, to desire His truth and His way.”

So how do we meditate?

The primary tool of meditation is scripture. Meditating on scripture helps us internalize God’s word so it is part of our very being and flows out of us whether we are conscious of it or not. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).

We must set aside a time for focused meditation. Meditating on the works of God is something that we should be doing 24/7, but it is also important to dedicate a time to more intentional meditation.  Set a time to directly turn your heart and mind to God and allow Him to penetrate it with His word.

Setting a place and posture is also necessary. Foster recommends finding a place you can return to with consistency. You might also choose to meditate somewhere where you can be surrounded by the magnificence of God’s creation. Finding a place that stirs your awe and affections  will make your meditation that much sweeter. However, Foster reminds us that “regardless of how [meditation] is done, the aim is to center the attention of the body, the emotions, the mind, and the spirit upon ‘the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6).”

As modern Christians bombarded by desires of the flesh everywhere we go, we must not neglect the practice of pausing to let God’s word inform our hearts and minds. At the core of meditation is the desire to be closer knit to God. All Christian should crave this closeness to the heart of God and seek it through meditation, for He will not hide Himself from those who  seek Him. “I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver” (Proverbs 8:17-19).