Daily Spiritual Practice

July 14th, 2013

Nurturing One Another

Whenever someone is baptized, the congregation is asked, “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?” We make promises to each other, and to the one baptized, in the United Methodist baptismal liturgy. Do we keep those commitments?

Nurturing one another in the Christian faith and life, even simply nurturing ourselves, can be challenging. We have so many other commitments in our lives, including work, family, community, and church. Our calendars are often overscheduled with working, household chores, driving children to sports practices or music lessons, and other activities. Just finding the time and the energy for worship once a week can be a struggle. And let’s be honest: We cannot nurture ourselves in the Christian faith and life, let alone nurture others, in just one hour a week.

How can we grow as Christians in the midst of our busyness?

Jesus’ Example

Jesus was busy, too. He traveled throughout Galilee and Judea and at times ventured just beyond those regions. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, taught, preached, argued with religious leaders, forgave sinners, loved the unloved, called people to follow him, formed a faith community, and trained leaders. During the busyness of his ministry, Jesus took time to leave the crowds to worship and pray. We can see the importance Jesus placed on spiritual practice by reading the Gospels. Let’s take a closer look at Luke.

After his baptism, Jesus took time to fast and pray in the wilderness to prepare for a new phase of his life (Luke 4:1-13). We know that it was his custom to observe the Sabbath; and near the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth (4:16-30).

At another Sabbath gathering, this time at a synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus healed a man with an unclean spirit; and then, after he left the synagogue, he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. As the sun was setting, more people were brought to Jesus for him to heal. The next morning at daybreak, Jesus went to a deserted place to pray before the crowds interrupted him again (4:31-44).

Word about Jesus continued to spread as he called the first disciples to follow him and then healed a man with leprosy. Crowds gathered around him, including people who implored him to heal them. Yet in the midst of crushing demands, Jesus withdrew to pray (5:1-16).

As the Jesus movement continued to grow, he spent the night on a mountain to pray. After that night of prayer, Jesus chose the twelve who would be the inner circle of disciples (6:12-16).

One day Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up on a mountain to pray, where they had a powerful, mystical experience. In this transfiguration moment, they heard a voice from heaven proclaim that Jesus was God’s Son and they should listen to him (9:28-36). While those three disciples did not fully understand what happened on that mountain, they knew it was meaningful.

Yet that mountaintop spiritual experience was not a destination. They came down the mountain to continue Jesus’ work. As soon as they descended, they were met by a large crowd. A man in the crowd begged Jesus to heal his troubled son (9:37-43a).

Jesus visited Mary and Martha, which was quite an honor for these sisters. Martha busied herself with preparing the meal for their guest and was upset that her sister merely sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him. She wanted Jesus to tell Mary to help get everything ready. She was shocked that instead of correcting Mary, he corrected Martha. It turns out that Mary had made the better choice, the choice to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him (10:38-42). Jesus did not condemn work; instead, he reminded Martha that we can get distracted from what is really important when we are too busy.

His disciples noticed the vitality of Jesus’ inner life and asked that he teach them to pray. The prayer Jesus taught them is what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer. He didn’t use flowery language or employ rhetorical flourishes. Instead, the prayer uses common images and addresses everyday concerns such as food, forgiveness, and struggle. He then urged them to persevere in praying (11:1-13).

In the midst of a busy week, beginning with his entry into the city of Jerusalem when he was greeted by a cheering crowd, Jesus focused on spiritual practice. He gathered with the Twelve to celebrate Passover. During their time together, he instituted what we now know as the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. He reminded them what true greatness was, and he reminded them that he prayed for them (22:7-38). Later that night he prayed, knowing that he was soon to face his greatest test (22:39-46).

Luke tells us that Jesus prayed even as he was dying. He prayed that God would forgive those responsible for his crucifixion (23:34). And just moments before he took his last breath, he prayed that God would receive his spirit (23:44-46).

Jesus not only teaches us the importance of spiritual practice with his example, he also demonstrates how to incorporate spiritual practice into our daily lives. While Jesus did fast and pray for 40 days before he began his public ministry, his usual spiritual practice was embedded within his everyday life and work.

Be With Us

The first time I read a particular prayer attributed to Saint Patrick, a fifth-century Irish bishop, I didn’t understand it. The version of the prayer in The United Methodist Book of Worship begins, “Christ be with us, Christ before us, Christ behind us, / Christ in us, Christ beneath us, Christ above us.” I was convinced that the prayer would forever remain unintelligible to me.

Over the years, I’ve come to have a new appreciation for this prayer, which is a fragment of a popular prayer known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate. Christ truly is Immanuel, God with us. He is in our midst. He is with us where we sit down and where we stand up. He is with us when we sleep, when we wake, when we eat, when we work, and when we play. He is with us when we serve others, when we pray, when we worship, when we study, when we fast, and when we sing. He is with us every moment of every day, whether we realize it or not.

I have come to realize an ancient truth: Sometimes spiritual practice in the busy details of life might be simply finding God’s way right in the middle of that busyness. Spiritual practice doesn’t have to be separated from life; it can be incorporated as part of life. Spiritual practice opens the door to God. God is already with us. There is no need for an invocation, for calling God to come, though we may need to be aware of God’s presence in order to discern the holy in the midst of the everyday.

In the General Rules, John Wesley suggested that a good place to start spiritual practice is with the disciplines of worship, family and private prayer, searching the Scriptures, and fasting or abstinence. These disciplines are not meant to be apart from our everyday lives. Instead, they are to be part of our lives.

Take prayer, for example. Instead of lamenting how difficult it is to make time in my life to pray, I make prayer part of my life. Our family prays together at every meal we share; and when we gather for dinner each evening, we precede the prayer with taking turns individually to thank God for specific things that day. This practice helps me be aware of God’s presence throughout the day, knowing that I will be thanking God later.

Finding a quiet moment to pray in a busy home is difficult. Yet instead of being distracted by the noise around me, I enfold the distractions into my prayer time. I pray for our noisy neighbors, our dog who wants me to pet him, and our son who is calling for me. I have embraced the understanding that life, real life, is the distractions. I try to follow Jesus’ advice to pray using common images and addressing everyday needs.

The focus on spiritual growth is not just for the seasons of Lent and Advent; ordinary time should be spiritual, too. Paul urged the Thessalonians to pray continually, or “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NRSV). We follow Paul’s advice when spiritual practice is part of our everyday lives.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs.

comments powered by Disqus