One other manner of calling: Religious disciplines in unsure instances The trade
At the moment the world seems to be on fire.
And ironically, that's why we have to spend some time with Jesus.
Spiritual disciplines are always important, but we need to be reminded of them in turbulent times.
The subject of spiritual disciplines has changed somewhat in the last three decades. Writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Don Whitney and others have shown believers the importance of using Whitney's phrase and disciplining us to strive for godliness. Walking with Christ in the practice of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, worship and service helps believers in all seasons, even in times of certainty.
The corona virus has caused a lot of uncertainty right now.
However, circumstances like this remind us that we have to lean on God in times like these.
Ironically, I wrote in my book Christians at a time of outrage about spiritual disciplines to help us deal with stressful times (1). While I was talking about how we can focus on those practices that help us focus on Christ to lead us to a divine response to outrage, I believe they are even more useful when we look at them daily View news about COV-19.
Christ's followers are often referred to as disciples in the New Testament. The terms discipline and discipleship come from the same root, don't they? A person can be disciplined and not a disciple of Jesus, but can you be a disciple of Jesus and be undisciplined?
The corona virus offers the Christian community both an opportunity and an inventory. It offers places where we can serve the Lord and others, and it will test the depth of our discipleship. Will we surrender to fear or will we trust the Lord and serve others?
I would like to suggest three main disciplines that will help us to live a divine life in this particularly tense time. I would like to categorize these three according to inputs, expenses and necessities.
First, we enter the truth through scripture.
How can we recognize the truth in a world of information overload and too many choices (e.g. 168 types of grain in the local supermarket) amidst a sea of fake news and clickbaits and avoid overreacting to the information we want and need?
We whip ourselves on the Bible.
We have to keep going back to God's Word to realign our worldview. We need to be aware of the best wisdom about the corona virus and be wise in our personal response and as local churches. But we start with the scriptures and look for hope and wisdom. Like a car that is misaligned, we will inevitably find ourselves in a ditch where we have to worry if we carelessly handle the information we consume.
Reading, memorizing, meditating and studying the Bible keeps our eyes on the path the Lord has taken before us and helps us to pull against the currents to stay attuned to him.
In a world where believers are not always viewed in a noble way and in a time of uncertain days, immersion in biblical content reminds us of our identity. We are less likely to place our security in the markets, in the White House, in the courts, or under our circumstances, when we are reminded daily that our security lies in a God who is both sovereign and trustworthy.
Second, we express our concerns through prayer.
Paul had cause for concern when he was imprisoned while writing the letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 4: 6-7, however, he reminded his readers:
Do not be afraid of anything, but let your requests become known to God in everything through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will protect your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Do not worry. Pray instead. And pray with thanks.
Studies show that people who start their day writing at least three things they are thankful for show a remarkable decrease in anxiety. It is everyone. How much more is this true for believers who begin their day in prayers of gratitude to God.
In our current context, we can cry out to God with our needs because we know that God cares. And we can be grateful even if the immediate future is unclear.
Scripture often tells us where to pray before the world began: Nehemiah before we spoke to the king (Neh. 1: 4-11); Paul asked for prayer for a future door to the gospel (Col. 4: 3-4); and Jesus prayed to his father before the cross (Luke 22: 41-44).
Pray before reading the news update. Pray before posting on social media or responding in a hurry.
Third, fasting shows the need for God to be in our midst.
Our consumer culture has made fasting the least practiced discipline. We live in a time when we have difficulty distinguishing between what we really need and what we want. Discipline, someone said, chooses what you want most over what you want now.
Only now are we facing a pandemic. In earlier days, in times of famine, farmers gathered in a community to fast and pray for their harvest. Fasting for a meal (or more) and taking the time to pray about the corona virus could be a helpful practice for believers.
Fasting brings this reality to the fore as we deliberately and prayerfully forego the food that gives us life to be reminded that our last need for the Lord is there. In my book Christians in a Time of Outrage I say: "Fasting should focus our hearts on God and reveal our dependence on him and the complete inadequacy of this world to meet our needs."
Spiritual practices in turbulent times
We are short-term insecure with the virus in our midst; We can turn to these practices to remember that certainty remains: Our God is here, he is not silent, and he works. Perhaps it is a good time for each of us to take a break, focus our thoughts on the Word, reflect more in prayer, and resist jerky responses from Lent.
We may find that our lives get better in the middle of dark times, and we can influence our world better than we knew.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, dean at Wheaton College, and publishes resources for church leadership through the Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article.
(1) See Christians in a time of indignation: how to do our best when the world is worst Tyndale, 2018).