Prayer Day 47

 

A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples
A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples

 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Gracious Father,

Rest with us. Grant us the energy to care.

Let us focus a day each week on being your people and modeling your love to those around us.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer Day 47

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Why Sabbath Rest?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt 12:8)

What is the first sin in the Bible?

The typical response is that the first sin occurred when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:6). An alternative interpretation points out that although Adam and Eve were created in Genesis 1, when God rests on the first Sabbath in Genesis 2 they are not mentioned (Feinberg 1998, 16). The first sin in scripture is then argued to be a sin of omission (not doing good). It occurred when of Adam and Eve refused to participate in Sabbath rest. It was as if God threw a party and they refused to come.

After that, the sin in Genesis escalated from disrespect into open rebellion. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve commit their first sin of commission (doing evil). In Genesis 4, Cain kills Abel and Lamech takes revenge. In Genesis 5, Noah—the man who rested in Hebrew—is born (Feinberg 1998, 28).  In Genesis 6, God tells Noah to build an ark because he planned to send a flood in response to the depth of human corruption and sin. After the flood, only Noah and his family remained, a re-creation event (Kline 2006, 221–27). 

This interpretation is echoed in the New Testament where the kingdom of God is compared to a wedding. Jesus tells an enigmatic parable of a king who held a wedding banquet for his son. When the banquet was ready, the king sent his servants to inform his guests. But, instead of responding to the reminder, many of the intended guests ignored the invitation while others committed acts of violence, even murder, against the king’s servants. The climax to this story comes in verse 7: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” (Matt 22:7)

If we treat Sabbath rest as a foretaste of the kingdom of God, this parable can be an allegory to the first sin, in which Adam and Eve refused God’s invitation to join him in the first Sabbath. The original sin, according to this interpretation, was the contemptuous rejection of God’s generous invitation on the seventh day. The fact that the parable of the wedding feast is a parable of judgment is an emphatic reminder that God really wants us to rest with Him.

Sabbath rest is important enough to God that it is the fourth and the longest of the Ten Commandments given to Moses (Exod 20:8–11). Why was it important to the Jewish people? Free people rest; slaves work. The experience of slavery in Egypt and later in Babylon was a reminder that rest is a privilege not always enjoyed.

Are we a free people? Do we rest? Do we rest with God?

Jesus described himself as the Lord of the Sabbath, not to do away with it, but to refocus it on God’s desire for our lives. Sabbath rest is a gateway to the other spiritual disciplines because it makes the other disciplines easier to pursue. Rested people have the energy to care. Exhausted people struggle to care for God and for their neighbors.

Confusion about Sabbath arises, in part, because the Jewish Sabbath was the last day of the week, while Christians celebrated Sabbath on the first day of the week (Chan 2006, 81). Pastors and others who  must work Sundays often designate another day as their Sabbath and inform their family and friends. The point is to consecrate a day each week to honor and rest with God.

Why Sabbath Rest?

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Prayer Day 46

 

A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples
A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples

 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Holy Father,

We praise you for your divine example of life in community.

Shelter us through life’s transitions.

Grant us spiritual guides for the journey who help us ask the right questions and persevere with us until we do.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, teach us to accept guidance and how to offer it in grace.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer Day 46

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Why Participate in a Small Group?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46–47)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The early church was a small group. Many churches today remain small by choice.

My first small group experience occurred in high school when our senior pastor retired and the youth director left. Overnight our active youth program fell apart. The associate pastor stepped in to fill the gap, but only two of us stuck with the group: my best friend and I. Throughout my senior year in high school, our time together focused on two things: the Book of Romans and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Cost of Discipleship. Interestingly, my best friend and I are now both pastors.

The original small group is the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because our identities are formed by who we are in relationship with [1], our relationship with the Triune God provides an important example of what a loving, well-functioning community looks like [2].

Another foundational small group is the family. Families talk about every important matter in life. In the family, we learn to talk, pray, and to read scripture. Our families also teach us to joke, to love, to fight, and to reconcile. My first ministry as an adult was to my family.

Jesus did not write a book; he established a small group. This simple observation is remarkable because Jesus drew large crowds—therefore, his focus on disciplining the twelve appeared counter-intuitive. Jesus called the twelve disciples after spending an entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12). The Gospels record how very difficult the journey of faith was for Jesus’ disciples. Not all of them made it (John 6:66).

Small groups provide us the security to make difficult transitions (Icenogle 1994, 126–37) [3]. Most tragedies in life are involuntary transitions. During such transitions, we often cry: Lord—why me? Transitions become growth opportunities when we pray: Lord—why did you bring me to this time and place? Small groups provide a safe place to ask this question while inviting members to wait upon the Lord’s response together.

Footnotes

[1] Maureen Miner (2007, 116) asks an important question: “Can we have a separate and distinct relationship with each member of the Trinity?” If so, striking the right balance requires a community effort which is a mandate for small groups.

[2] This relationship has a name: perichoresis, which means divine dance. It defines the special and intimate relationship we see in the Trinity (Keller 2008, 213–26).

[3] Consultant William Bridges (2003, 43) makes the point that it took Moses maybe 40 days to get the people of Israel out of Egypt, but it took about 40 years to get the Egypt out of the people (Num 11:5). The point is that transitions begin with people looking backwards; proceed through a long period of uncertainty; and end as people began to adapt to the new environment (Bridges 2003, 100). After 40 years in the wilderness, it took new leadership, Joshua, to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. El Precio de la Gracia [The Cost of Discipleship] (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Bridges, William. 2003. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Icenogle, Gareth Weldon. 1994. Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry: An Integrational Approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Keller, Timothy. 2008. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton.

Miner, Maureen. 2007. “Back to the basics in attachment to God: Revisiting theory in light of theology.” Journal of Psychology and Theology, 35(2), 112–22.

Why Participate in a Small Group?

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Prayer Day 45

 

A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples
 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty and loving God.

We praise you for instituting and blessing our marriages.

We thank you for the gift of children and for the way you transform us through and with our families.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom and strength to care for our spouses and our children day by day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer Day 45

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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What is Spiritual About Marriage and Family?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (Prov 31:10)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

How has marriage transformed you? If you are not married, how has your parent’s marriage impacted you?

Scripture begins and ends with marriage. In Genesis, we see a couple, Adam and Eve, who are just made for each other! In the book of Revelation, an angel informs us: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) Obviously, marriage was God’s idea (Keller 2011, 13).

As an unconditional promise—until death do us part, marriage is also formative and it provides a paradigm for other covenants. This implies that marriage, in and of itself, can function as a spiritual discipline.

The Apostle Paul’s comments on mixed faith marriages highlight marriage’s formative character. Paul reports that the believing spouse renders the whole marriage holy for the children (1 Cor 7:12–14). Paul also sees marriage as a witnessing opportunity. Paul asks: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor 7:16) [1]

In other words, Paul clearly sees marriage possessing a sacrificial component [2]. Jesus’ own teaching on divorce and remarriage clearly draws inspiration, not from the Law of Moses (which admits exceptions), but rather from God’s eternal work in creation [3].

But if marriage is a spiritual discipline, how does it draw us closer to God?

Marriage is formative in our faith for at least three reasons. The first reason is that God instituted marriage and commissioned marriage with a blessing and mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Gen 1:28) God created marriage, blessed it, and said it was good—obeying God must draw us closer to him.

The second reason that marriage is formative is that it starts with an unconditional promise. God is the eternal promise keeper. In marriage we imitate our creator. Making and keeping good promises—even when it hurts—transforms us and draws us closer to God.

The third reason marriage is formative is that it makes us accountable. Our spouses know us in the biblical (covenantal) way! Our weaknesses and sin affect our spouses and they tell us. We sin less, in part, because our spouses make us more aware of our sin—a sanctification process that forms us—even if we are not believers! Part of this process is to learn reconciliation skills by practicing them daily [4].

As the Apostle Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17)

This list of reasons why marriage is formative is especially interesting because God instituted marriage even before he instituted the nation of Israel or sent his son to die on the cross.

God is not irrational. He knows that the biggest beneficiaries of marriage are our children. And he loves them as much as he loves us. This is probably the reason that God places such a high priority on marriage. We should too.

Footnotes

[1] A lot of ink has been spilt over the church’s traditional teaching that forbid remarriage after divorce. For a discussion of the various perspectives, see: Wenham, Heth, and Keener (2006). My point is not to advocate a position but rather to recognize that marriage has a sacrificial component that often gets lost in our era of no-fault divorce.

[2]  In the Roman Catholic tradition, marriage is also a sacrament.

[3] Deut 24: 1–4, Matt 19:6–9, and Gen 2:24.

[4] Marriage is so important in the Apostle Paul’s thinking that he used the household codes (Eph 5:22–6:10; Col 3:17–4:4) as a metaphor for relationships in the church. Paul writes: “. . .if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:5)

References

Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.

Wenham, Gordon J., William A. Heth, and Craig S. Keener. 2006. Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

What is Spiritual About Marriage and Family?

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Prayer Day 44

 

A Christian Guide to Spirituality: Foundations for Disciples

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Loving Father,

We praise you for giving us useful things to do.

We praise for equipping us for work in your church.

Thank you for giving us new eyes to see our work, our supervisors, and our primary responsibilities.

The harvest is ready; prepare us to join the laborers.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer Day 4

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Why is Work a Spiritual Discipline?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” (Colossians 3:23–24)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The gravity of idolatrous sin is obvious. If our loyalty, time, energy, and money point to what we really worship (Giglio 2003, 113), then the heart of idolatrous activity has to be our work—inside or outside the church; inside or outside the home. Work is often also a source of stress, fear, and anxiety.

Jesus understands. At one point, he presented a word picture of lilies and kings. Then, he advised: “do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried . . . Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:27–31) In other words, work is important; the kingdom of God is more important.

Work, as designed by God, is endowed with dignity. The Bible opens with God working—he creates (Welchel 2012, 7). God’s only son did manual labor! If Christ worked first with his hands as a carpenter, then working with our hands also has honor. Most of the disciples worked as fishermen—do you think they came home smelling like lilies? One of Jesus’ most radical acts was table ministry—he ate and drank with people who worked for a living (Matthew 11:19)[1].

The Apostle Paul’s attitude concerning work is significant in two ways. First, our work for human supervisors is also work for God! (Colossians 3:23–24). Second, many of the people that we work with and for are brothers and sisters—family—in Christ. How can anyone disrespect family? (Philemon 1:16). Impossible! Unthinkable!

One of the church’s most important spiritual writers was a disabled veteran who worked in a kitchen. He hardly wrote anything at all. But he committed his work during the day to God in prayer. Brother Lawrence (1982, 23) wrote: “We should offer our work to Him before we begin and thank Him afterwards for the privilege of having done it for His sake.” He simply applied Paul’s advice: “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) And, the spiritual giants of his day beat a path to his door.

One measure of the idolatrous potential of work is to ask about identity. When you meet a new neighbor or someone at a party, how does your spouse identify you? Is it by your marital relationship, by your favorite sport’s team, or by your profession?

What keeps you busy?

Footnote

[1] This citation comes from the parable of the brats—one of my favorite (Matthew 11:16–19).

References

Giglio, Louie. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Press.

Lawrence, Brother. 1982. The Practice of the Presence of God (Orig Pub 1691). New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House.

Whelchel, Hugh. 2012. How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

Why is Work a Spiritual Discipline?

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Prayer Day 43

Available on Amazon.com

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

We praise you for the gift of life. Walk with us on the beach in the morning.

Run with us through peaceful cornfields in the night.

Swim with us as we exercise bodies and minds.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, transform us into your people.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer Day 43

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Why Exercise?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:18–20)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Which spiritual discipline should I focus on?

Sin distracts and separates us from God. The spiritual disciplines of highest value target sins to which we, as Americans, are especially vulnerable—sexual immorality and gluttony. Both are sins against the body.

Where Does Sin Begin?

Jesus is clear when he says that sin begins in the heart. On the question of adultery, he says: “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:28) This statement is immediately followed by hyperbole about chopping off body parts that lead to sin [1]. This transition from heart to body is an example of how the body and mind are unified [2].

Unity of Body, Mind, and Spirit

The best example of the unity of body and mind applied to spiritual disciplines is found in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out. Nouwen describes our spiritual journey as a unity of three dimensions—reaching inward to ourselves; reaching outward to others; and reaching upwards to God. In ourselves, we move from being lonely to becoming content in solitude. With our relationships with others, we move from hostility to hospitality. In our relationship with God, we move from illusion to prayer (Nouwen 1975, 15). The paradox of this unity in three dimensions is that progress in one dimension makes progress in the others easier.

Spiritual Movements

This linkage of spiritual progress in different dimensions is especially important in dealing with sins of the body. Sins against the body invariably involve mild to severe addictions—obsessive behaviors that we repeatedly engage in. When we allow ourselves our “little indulgences”, they spread to other aspects of our life. Bad behaviors turn into bad habits that turn into bad lifestyles. Undertaking a “fast” in vulnerable areas of our lives can nip bad behaviors early in the process. Gerald May (1988, 177) writes: “It all comes down to quitting it, not engaging in the next addictive behavior, not indulging in the next temptation.” Physical discipline, accordingly, works to cleanse the whole system.

Why exercise?

The simple answer is because your body is the temple of God. We are under obligation to ourselves and to God to keep our temple clean. A more nuanced answer is that the physical disciplines grant us strength to discipline other, less obvious, areas of our lives. The body and the mind are inseparable—physical exercise is a kind of beach assault on our island of sin [3]. Beach assaults, like the one on Iwo Jima during the Second World War [4], are risky but the payoff is huge. Ironically, when we exercise we often exhibit less interest in food, alcohol, even tobacco because we are more relaxed and self-confident.

Assessment

In clinical pastoral education we were taught to look for dissidence between words and the body language of patients that we visited. This disharmony between words and body language is, of course, a measure of truth. In like manner, the biblical paradigm of beauty is that the truth of an object matches its appearance [5]. Did I mention that body and mind are closely bound together?

Footnotes

[1]  I wonder, which body part is really in view here?

[2] Macchia (2012, 104) writes: “Your personal rule of life is formatted and reflected in your . . . physical priorities (the care and training of your body, mind, and heart).”

[3] Reynolds (2012), who writes almost exclusively on a biblical perspective on weight-loss, notes that the first sin in the Bible is a temptation involving food (Gen 3:1–6).

[4]  Japan is a family of islands. In February 1945, United States amphibious forces landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. There they engaged the Japanese military in one of the bloodiest battles during the war.

[5] “Our modern images feature surface and finish; Old Testament images present structure and character. Modern images are narrow and restrictive; theirs were broad and inclusive…For us beauty is primarily visual; their idea of beauty included sensations of light, color, sound, smell, and even taste” (Dyrness 2001, 81).

References

Dyrness, William A. 2001. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Macchia, Stephen A. 2012. Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

May, Gerald G. 1988. Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. New York: HarperOne.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Reynolds, Steve and MG Ellis. 2012. Get Off the Couch: 6 Motivators to Help You Lose Weight and Start Living. Ventura: Regal.

Why Exercise?

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 
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