The Spiritual Practices of Engagement
Spiritual practice is about preparing us to #LoveWell. These practices include practices of abstinence and practices of engagement. We can align these ideas with Jesus telling his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross daily (Mark 8:34-38). The practices of abstinence are how we practice denying ourselves. The second kinds of practices are those of engagement, the taking up of our cross.
In the American church we have largely focused on the practices of engagement. Because these are more straightforward and more “normal” I'm going to summarize them in one post.
The first practice of engagement is study. This encompasses the study of Scripture, theology, doctrine, and apologetics. As followers of Christ our most direct way of growing in our knowledge of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit is through study, specifically the Scriptures. The Scriptures are ancient texts. They come from a variety of authors, cultures, and times. This means that as we engage in study we need to identify the genre, historical setting, and cultural context for what we are studying. This can be done relatively easily with a quick Google search.
From there, we can focus our attention on five questions: 1. What do I think is important? 2. What do I not understand? 3. What do I learn about God (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit)? 4. What do I learn about people? 5. How do I need to respond?
If we simple worked our way through the Scriptures asking these five questions we would walk away with significant insight and hopefully life change.
The second practice of engagement is prayer. By spending time in prayer we are engaging with God in a most personal way. As we pray we are able to do so in faith knowing that God the Spirit is even praying on our behalf.
How do we pray? That is a question that I get asked often. In my own practice I do a couple things. I tend to pray through what is known as the Lord's prayer from Matthew 6:9-15. As I work my way through each verse my mind and heart tend to be directed to where they need to go. I will also often follow a pattern known as “A.C.T.S.” This is an acronym that stands for adoration (adoring God), confession (acknowledging my sin and embracing forgiveness), thanksgiving (thanking God for all that God has provided), and supplication (praying for myself and others).
Worship is where we turn our attention to God and offer praise. This an important aspect of our spiritual practice as it forces us to move from a self-centered position to that of God-centered. Worship can be private (see adoration above) and/or corporate.
Corporate worship is significant because we are explicitly commanded in Hebrews to not forsake meeting together. If you are a follower of Jesus you have a responsibility to connect in community on a regular basis. Typically this is centered around the Lord's table and the preaching of the Scriptures. Sadly, the people of God have split over these two things. Protestants tend to emphasize preaching over the Supper and Catholics/Orthodox tend to emphasize the Supper over preaching. What we see in the Scriptures is a dual emphasis of Supper and preaching.
Tied to worship is celebration. The Scriptures are full of feasts. The people of God have historically been a feast people. Celebrations are used to remember the works and story of God. In other words, a significant part of following and growing in Christ is learning to party!
Too often we don't think about how important service is to our spiritual lives. When we serve another we are practicing a self-sacrificial love. It is critically important. When was the last time you served? This should be an easy answer. Yet, too often in our American Christianity we have come to think that the church exists to serve us. This is why we have seen the proliferation of programs within the context of church. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This is the core of service.
Fellowship in the Christian faith is not simply getting together. There is an intent to meeting together for fellowship. The easiest way to think about this may be in the context of a small group of people meeting together to talk through their spiritual lives. Fellowship is an intentional meeting of people to press one another to a deeper place of spiritual growth.
Confession we touched on under prayer. This practice of engagement is where we engage with our own stories. Paul talks about taking off the old and putting on the new. This is the practice of confession. We actively take off the old sinful nature and put on our new nature as a follower of Christ. This act is ongoing and never ending. We are imperfect and this side of eternity we won't ever be perfect. Therefore, we must recognize those imperfections and embrace the forgiveness and grace that is ours in Christ.
Finally, there is the practice of submission. This is where we submit to one another and to Christ. This is so very hard to do. It requires us set aside ourselves and come under someone else. We look to another and say, “I hear what you're saying and I submit to you.” This is the critical practice that maintains unity in the body of Christ.
When we “take up” our “cross” it prepares us to handle life when it comes at us. These practices of engagement help us to build the spiritual, emotional, and relational muscle to enter the world as gospel bearers. When we face the darkness we will be able to bear the light and shine grace.