IVP - Online Pulpit

December 1, 2015

The Importance of Practices

By Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

I recently met with a young man who left the Christian faith to become a Buddhist. He said,

I was an avid Christian who eventually got tired of discussing which church or theology or pastor had it right. I was fed up with arguing faith issues and wanted to find practitioners who could get me out of my head and into living as Jesus did. In college I met Buddhists who had practices: meditation, silence, mindfulness and prayer. They claimed their practices reduced stress and reactivity, and gave them a center of calm and purpose. For the next eight years I was all in. I went to Nepal. I met the Dalai Lama. I practiced my faith. Then one day a friend invited me to church. I hadn’t been to church in ages but knew the drill. I didn’t believe, but I went and watched and listened. Then everyone got up, formed one long line of people and headed to one table to taste Jesus. Suddenly I had an overwhelming desire to share in this practice—the practice of Communion. I wanted to take the bread Jesus gave to his betraying disciples. I wanted to taste the miracle of the broken body that made them one. So I walked up, put the bread in my mouth and all I can say is that I was flooded with Jesus. Today this young man is a novice in a Christian order because he wants to be one with people whose faith is anchored in daily practices.

Practices make an impact. Practices change us. They change our hearts and our brains and our experience of faith.

I know this from listening to practitioners who have read the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and found new ways of opening their lives to God.

  • Two moms developed a multistation spiritual disciplines experience which introduced their pre-teen daughters and their friends to a new spiritual practice each week for a series of weeks. Activities included crafting, writing in sand, working with clay and creating a spiritual disciplines journal to catalog their experiences. Two of the girls brought me their journals and couldn’t stop talking about how much they loved knowing more ways to connect with God.

  • Campus staff workers introduce spiritual seekers to practices as an entry point to the life of faith.

  • Pastors introduce congregations to spiritual practices through a focused series on how to intentionally make space in our lives for God to show up.

  • Pastors discern with their leadership which spiritual practices they want to be known for in their community. They introduce these practices as a focus for spiritual growth.

  • Youth pastors choose specific practices as a focus from year to year.

  • Small groups grow in intimacy with God and one another by experimenting with a variety of practices over a period of time.

  • Students gather to practice one discipline together for a period of time. They talk about what the experience is like for them.

  • Leadership teams practice spiritual rhythms together as a precursor to introducing them to their churches and organizations. This way they can talk about what it was like in real time for them to lean into a practice and be intentional about growth.

Spiritual practices matter. In Acts 4 the early Christian community had practices that sustained them. They

  • gathered as one

  • prayed to boldly live and speak God’s love

  • prayed Scripture

  • gave generously to those in need

And while they were practicing, the Spirit of Jesus came and shook them.

The revised edition of The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook updates resources and adds more than a dozen spiritual practices. Some of these practices are common enough that I wonder how I left them out in the first place: blessing/encouragement, forgiveness, prayer of lament and waiting. How did I overlook all my friends who have practiced sobriety for years. This spiritual practice of depending on God affects all of their relationships and can applied to so many areas of life. Our virtual world also seems to beg for practices of face-to-face connection, welcoming prayer, mindfulness and visio divina. The world of terror, refugee camps, displaced people, homelessness and so on beckons us all to live in solidarity with Christ’s sufferings. My very rushed life has profited from ancient practices of iconography and pilgrimage.

This new edition is a call for every Christian to become a practitioner. Jesus is looking for practitioners. Let’s be people with practice.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:34-35)

calhounOP.jpgAdele Ahlberg Calhoun (MA, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) has worked in Christian ministry for over forty years and is currently copastor, with her husband, Doug, of Redeemer Community Church in Needham, Massachusetts. She was formerly pastor of spiritual formation at Christ Church in Oak Brook, Illinois. She is the author of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Invitations from God and the coauthor of True You and Women & Identity.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 1:49 PM