Dear Friends,

Henri Nouwen (recently promoted to glory) wrote an insightful article on spiritual
disciplines regarding solitude, community and ministry. He defined spiritual
disciplines as “the effort to create some space for God to act”
in us and through us (Philippians 2:12-13). Spiritual disciplines are a means
of appropriating God’s grace to empower us to be the person and do the
works that He calls us to. Nouwen saw these three disciplines as a pattern Jesus
modeled for us to follow based on Luke 6: 12-19 and similar passages: "One
of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night
praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose
twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter),
his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James
son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas
Iscariot, who became a traitor. He went down with them and stood on a level
place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people
from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who
had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil
spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was
coming from him and healing them all.
" The order of these disciplines
seen in this passage is vitally important but so often neglected in our desire
to serve the Lord. Let’s look at each one and see how they work together.

Solitude – Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the
night praying to God
. Solitude is being alone with God. Being alone
with the Lord in a quiet place (solitude and silence are needed) in our home
or elsewhere helps us “hear” His still small voice (1 Kings 19:12-13)
through study and meditation on the Scriptures. In this time of solitude the
space we create for God to act is primarily for communion, worship encouragement,
instruction, casting our cares upon Him, confession and renewal of our spirit.
It’s a time to create space to hear God say “you are my beloved”
(in Christ, we are accepted as His beloved – Ephesians 1:6) to meet that deep
basic need we all have to know that we are loved and to know that our life has
meaning and significance. Nouwen says that unless we learn to hear God calling
us His beloved, we can’t be free. And if we’re not free, we will,
in various ways, seek love and affirmation in so many wrong ways and places
looking to others to meet the need of unconditional love which no human being
can do. The world system is set up to make us prove ourselves and attempt to
earn love through performance, productivity, appearance, etc., to meet the expectation
of people. Satan challenged Jesus to prove Himself, “If you are the Son
of God turn these stones into bread”, etc., (i.e., prove yourself –See
Mathew 4:1-11). But Jesus knew He didn’t have to prove anything because
He knew He was God’s beloved Son (Matthew 3:17). Nor do we have to prove
ourselves. And if we learn to hear this truth in our inner being (Ephesians
3:16-19) in our times of solitude, we can go out into a world of friends or
foes and success or failure in their eyes and not be crushed with a sense of
rejection or puffed up with pride but be a spring of living water to others.
Thus one of Satan’s main strategies is to keep us busy (b-u-s-y, being-under-Satan’s-yoke)
by enticing us with so many activities that have so little value compared to
knowing we are God’s beloved. The Lord shows us how important this time
is as He speaks to busy Martha and to our busy lives: "Martha, Martha,"
the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only
one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken
away from her." (See Luke 10:38-42)

Community – When morning came, he called his disciples to him.
“A friend, says the Wise Man, is the medicine of life.” (Spiritual
Friendships by Aelred of Rievaulx) The Christian community has several relational
metaphors that emphasize the value of relationships: the family of God, the
body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit built
with living stones. (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Corinthians 3: 16-17; 12:27; 2 Corinthians
11:2; 1 Peter 2:5) It is the bridge of support between solitude with the Lord
and ministry to people through which we are strengthened and empowered for ministry.
It is where we both give and receive God’s love and grace, spiritual gifts
(1 Peter 4:10) and prepare each other for the work of the ministry. Ephesians
4:11-16 "It was he (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets,
some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s
people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until
we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become
mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will
no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and
there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in
their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all
things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole
body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds
itself up in love, as each part does its work."

As opposed to the world’s way of relating we are not to be independent
or co-dependent but we are called to be interdependent. 1 Corinthians
12:21 "The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don’t need you!" And
the head cannot say to the feet, "I don’t need you!"
We can
grow and thrive if we have healthy “body-life” but we’ll become
spiritual anemics without a good church, small group fellowship and one-on-one
mentoring relationships. Yet community is not easy for it requires ongoing forgiveness
of each other for none of us have arrived in Christlikeness. We can easily slip
into distant, superficial relating where we condone hurtful actions from others
to keep a false peace or speak harsh words in anger and push people away. True
community requires forgiveness (not excusing), truth-telling in love, and faithfulness
and commitment when we’d like to cut and run. But as we remain faithful
in forgiving and asking forgiveness, God can rub off the sharp edges of our
un-transformed personalities as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) and shape
us more and more into the image of His Son. Hebrews 10:24-25 "And
let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let
us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let
us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Ministry – Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people
all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all
Someone said, “Ministry is the fruit of our relationships.” The
time of relationship with the Lord (solitude) and with friends who love us and
speak truth to us (community) is where God causes spiritual fruit and gifts
to grow and develop to feed and serve others through ministry. Love, joy, peace
and other fruits of the Spirit are so needed in a world filled with sadness,
resentment and bitterness. We certainly don’t have to go far to find people
who need God’s spiritual fruit through us. But we do have to go to them
and be with them in their sadness, resentments and bitterness even as Jesus
through others came to us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 "Praise be to the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God
of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort
those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

We don’t have to be afraid of pain anymore, ours or the pain of those
God sends us to. Yes we still hurt and get hurt but now we know the Healer and
He promises to never leave us nor forsake us.

Solitude, community and ministry, the three vital disciplines, in that order,
for us to be fruitful Christians to the glory of our Lord. John 15:5,
8 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in
him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. This is to my
Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

Until He comes,

Len and Kristen

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