When you have a forced isolation, or lockdown like we have in Spain and other nations right now, what do we do with our time? Even when the world isn’t involved in a pandemic, we have issues of sickness, accident, hospitalisation, burn out, imprisonment, cancellation of events and suchlike, that cause us to rethink our rhythms and activities. What do we do with free space when it comes? Fill the space with something as soon as we can? Feel disoriented and scattered and not know where to begin to do what? One of the things we can do is pause to take time to go a little deeper in our relationship with the Lord.
Many saints from the past focused on the interior life. But unfortunately, we often don’t go there, unless the exterior life is closed down in some way. So right now, we have a prime opportunity to do some thinking and reflecting and create a new rhythm for our time with each other, personal development and time with God.
Ignatius of Loyola was known for his spiritual exercises and retreats and it seems to me that this is a prime time, with a forced retreat, to use this space productively and engage in some spiritual activities or disciplines – call them what you will. I have made a whole list of possibilities below. You could choose a different one every day for the next month. Some of the exercises take just a few minutes, others can take a few hours depending on how long you want to spend on them. We all have our regular rhythm of the way we read the bible, meditate, pray and worship. It’s always good to add some new dynamics to keep our relationship with God alive, just like we do (hopefully) in our marriages, families and friendships.
- Three S’s of Slow down, Solitude & Silence. We live in a world that is fast moving, driven and task focused. So, this is an opportunity to slow down and take time for solitude and silence. Being alone and still is not easy. It is only natural for us to have feelings of fear and anxiety in times like this. As I read from a blog by Larry Warner – ‘We cannot control what we feel but we can chose where these feelings take us and that makes a HUGE difference, for if it is toward God we can find hope, a level of peace that can bring ability to trust and rest in the goodness and love of God and if it is away from God then fear, despair, can fill and drain our soul of life, creativity and the ability to love others.’ So as you start your time of solitude and silence, these feelings and thoughts can fill our minds. Picture a river in front of you and in your mind’s eye see boats with labels across the sails of your fears and anxieties and see them float away out of sight. Reach out to God with the antidote, the opposites of each of those fears and anxieties and proclaim them out to the Lord. Affirm your trust in him and his character at this time.
- Basic meditation – Lectio Divina. Many use this from of meditation on scripture. It is simple yet profound. You can read the same passage many times over and receive something new each time. There are three stages. Identify the story or passage of scripture you would like to look at.
– Read & Resonate: Read the verses and listen for a word or phrase that stands out, that you are drawn to, that the Holy Spirit is underlining for you.
– Read & Reflect: Read the verses again and then ask the following questions with the word or phrase in mind, that is today’s word for you: What is it in my life that needed to hear these words today? In what way is my life touched by these words in this moment? If the passage is a story – Where am I in this text, and what do I experience as I step into the story?
– Read & Respond: Think about your word or phrase and ask the following questions: What invitation or challenge am I to respond to? What prayer response is on my heart? Give full expression in the silence to your thanks, joy, excitement, pain, frustration, anger, conviction, gratitude or whatever.
- Collage worship: Grab some magazines and for your worship time, pull out pictures of creation, trees, flowers and beauty of all kinds. Tear or cut these pictures and glue them onto a page to become your worship collage that speaks to you of God’s creativity. Allow the life flowing from this picture to bring a fragrance to your worship.
- Journaling 2P’s & 2T’s: Many have various ways of journaling and writing their thoughts, observations and feelings. Here is an idea that I have been using for some time now, that I call 2P’s and 2T’s. At the top of the journal I write a title for the day – a feeling, an activity or event taking place, a hope, expectation, etc. Every day I take a photo (first P) of some event or something significant or a picture that sums up my day. Next I write a simple prayer for the day coming or a prayer of response at the end of the day, depending when I complete it. (second P) The T’s consist of something I am Thankful for today and finally a Thought for the day. They vary in length but it’s a great way of briefing the day or debriefing the day – depending on what you prefer.
- A place: It is helpful to have a regular place, where you have a comfortable chair, a familiar view, or a cosy corner. When you come to that place, you come with an expectation of meeting with the Lord. You may like to light a candle signifying his light into your life or hold a cross in your hand or simply sit with your favourite cushion. These familiar things become an environment prepared to meet with Jesus.
- The One hundred challenge: I remember a children’s book we loved reading with our kids called – ’It could be worse!’ No matter what the circumstance, the Grandpa in the story would repeat the title – it could be worse. How about adding some positivity to your day through gratefulness. Write one hundred things that you are thankful for and offer them to the Lord as your worship. It can be thanks for people in your life, for aspects of God’s character that you have experienced, for things you have enjoyed and even for those hard times that brought some deep lessons with them. You will emerge with a fresh positive mentality.
- Breath Prayer: This is a prayer that can be shared in one breath. The classic is the prayer of Jesus – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This kind of prayer is a simple short prayer that sums up your desires, intercession or longing. Sometimes we have prayed so much about a situation that we run out of words to share. A breath prayer sums up all those prayers for us as we pray in one breath. So, think of the situation you want to pray for, the name of God you want to use, and what you want to ask for. Pray it regularly throughout the day at every opportune moment.
- Write your own Psalm: A Psalm is to express your feelings, thoughts, questions, thanks and love to the Lord. This is especially helpful when there is uncertainty, suffering, and when life just doesn’t make sense. Try using the following framework to write your Psalm.
- Make a statement about who your God is.
- Share a question, a doubt, a complaint or problem
- A turning point – in spite of this we will…
- Make a request or call for help
- Finish with a response of praise, trust and hope
- Blessing prayer: Write a prayer of blessing for a loved one who is perhaps going through a difficult time. Don’t ask the Lord or pray for things but rather say, I bless you … may the Lord… I declare over you… You may like to write the person’s name in large fat letters and write the blessings in the spaces inside the letters. Then if you have done a nice job, you can give it to the person so they can be reminded of how blessed they are.
- Looking back: Think about your last few months.
a. Where have you sensed hope, encouragement and growth? What activities and occasions have produced rich fruit? Determine to give those areas time and space in the future.
b. As you look back over these past months, have you been tired, stressed, anxious and living under any kind of cloud? If so, bring them to the Lord and identify what has caused these feelings. Then seek to let go of those concerns that are disturbing you.
- Responsibilities: Make a list of the responsibilities that you carry in leadership, in the family, toward friends and in your personal life. What responsibilities do you carry with joy, with concern or with frustration? And what responsibilities are you not really following through on? What is God asking of you? What roles need to be changed? As you consider all you are carrying, identify what you feel are God’s assignments for you?
- Exhale & Inhale: This is a simple exercise of breathing in and out and for each breath you speak the problem and then the antidote. For example: I exhale time wasting and inhale your assignments and priorities; I exhale feeling lost and inhale being found; I exhale discouragement and inhale your encouragement; I exhale failures and inhale a portal to your presence.
- Stewardship: Think about your financial stewardship. These are concerning days for our finances. Make sure you have a budget and if as a missionary you are receiving support from others, clarify your surplus or faith gap. Now with no guarantee of salaries, we are all living by faith! We are encouraged to be generous with our time, gifts, possessions and money. How have you been giving to others? Many use the tithe as a basis for giving. Others decide on a certain percentage and perhaps seek to increase that percentage year by year. What is the Lord asking of you?
- What a God: What is your image of God? How was that image formed? Write words, phrases, verses, metaphors and colour, etc. to express who God is that you are worshipping. How limiting is this view of God? What is most difficult to believe? “God loves me, likes me, enjoys me, I am incapable of defeating God’s love for me, loves loving me.” Write Jesus a love letter in response.
- People priority: Who are the people in your life that you want to give your best time and energy to? These are your inner circle people that you carry in your heart. What are you doing for these people to bless them? How are you using the 5 love languages to communicate to them? How will you make them feel special in these coming weeks? Take some time to write the names down and decide what you will write, give or do for each person.
- Communion: Jesus asked us to remember him with the elements of bread and wine. It is such a simple sensorial worshipful activity. As you eat meals over these coming weeks take a few minutes to celebrate communion as an individual, couple, family or community. Make it a natural part of the meal and think of creative ways to enjoy it. We can remember him in all aspects of our lives. Choose different verses and scenarios every time to celebrate. You can decide if you want to celebrate everyday or certain days of the week.
- Fasting: This discipline isn’t only about doing without or only eating certain amounts or types of food but can relate to a letting go of any part of our rhythm. For instance, fasting from Facebook or technology, tv shows, sugar, sleep…., anything that could become too strong a focus or habit. Think about what you can fast today and what you want to bring to the cross.
- What lies beneath: We can all have loves, needs and desires that can become rights or entitlements. Some call them disordered attachments. What situations in your life seem to be controlling you in a wrong way. Eg To be overly concerned about being safe and well as an individual or as a whole family, concern about others opinions, having to do something or go somewhere, be entertained, a feelings of obligation, a need to be in control, to have to fix things, to have to serve ( Martha), to accomplish goals, to be in charge, or worry over future finances. My list can go on. These issues need to be prayed through to come to a place of positive indifference! You don’t need these things to be happy or at peace. Give them all to Jesus.
- Decision making: How do you feel about your present circumstances? Sometimes we can feel stuck because we have changeable decisions that we are viewing as unchangeable. Sometimes we are living under a cloud (desolation) and we want to change something but we don’t sense any guidance from the Lord. Sometimes we have the things that we view as changeable decisions but have no motivation to do anything about them. Bring your circumstances and decisions to Jesus and ask for his discernment.
- Rewriting Psalm 136: This Psalm has the regular refrain “His love endures forever”. You will notice from verse 9 the psalm recounts the story of the Exodus. This is your chance to put in lines of your ’own Exodus’, suffering or victory. This psalm turns into your life story of how God has intervened and been with you though thick and thin. Finish off your Psalm with verse 26.
- Bless your body: This is an activity to bless your whole body. Start at the top of your head and go to the bottom of your feet. Speak out a blessing over the hairs of your head and then add a prayer for a spiritual connection. ‘Lord thank you for the detail of your care for me in knowing the number of hairs on my head.’ Then bless your eyes and pray for spiritual vision and sight to see what God is doing. Then to ears and nose and mouth and neck and shoulders, etc. Right down to your toes. Speak health and vitality over your physical and spiritual body.
- Mentoring: Who are you mentoring in an informal or formal way right now? Who can you take initiative toward? What are God’s assignments for you in this area? Think through your circle of relationships. Jesus had a best friend in John, the inner circle of Peter, James & John, the twelve, the 72, the 120 and the crowds. What do those circles look like for you?
- Confession is good for the soul: There is much to confess – positive things about yourself and of course confession of sin, of weakness, of failings and of limitations. So, pull out a paper or note and write the words, ‘I am…’ and then write your confessions of how you feel and then write another ‘I am..’ Rather than write, you can simply speak out a confession between sips of drinking your coffee!
- Ten Ten challenge. Below are ten questions that require ten answers each. This is a longer challenge, so don’t feel you need to answer them all but choose those categories that may cause you to think a little deeper. But if you do attempt them all, it’s a good few hours spent that will bring great benefits.
- 10 spiritual disciplines for my new spiritual rhythm to practice over these next months.
- 10 positive marriage or relational habits to incorporate every week.
- 10 values of leadership that you live out and have become or are becoming your leadership finger print.
- 10 danger zones or pitfalls that you as a person have to guard against.
- 10 of my major life & leadership lessons and how they emerged to form the basis of what I speak about.
- 10 trends and challenges for YWAM (or for your business, church or ministry) that you need to be aware of.
- 10 goals for the future for your family and ministry.
- 10 relationships or relational circles that are priority for you to maintain.
- 10 priorities for this year in terms of my time, talents and energy.
- 10 things for my bucket list to do in the next 10 years.
- Written prayers: I got into writing prayers some years ago now and found a new depth of meaning for myself in praying them out but it also brought more meaning to others when I sent them. So often we receive emails about someone’s situation, or as we talk we say, ‘I will be praying for you.’ Well instead of just having nice ideas, turn them into reality and take a few moments immediately and speak out a couple of sentences of prayer. Then write down your prayer and send it to them. They will be blessed.
- Worship with a word: David Brazzeal, in his book, ‘Pray like a gourmet’ has hundreds of creative ideas that we can practice. One simple idea is using phrases to fill in the blank. For example – ‘God, you are ____________!’ You can use it to pray individually, with a friend or your spouse, or with a small group. Keep it going as many times as you can. Then you can use another phrase like, ‘Lord, your name is ____________!’ Or ‘Father, you have promised _____________!’ Or ‘Jesus, what I love about you is ______________!’
- A favourite Psalm: Here is another opportunity to write a Psalm but this time it’s made up from your favourite or life verses. Take five or six verses that have been meaningful for you over the years and pull out the key phrases. Create your own sentences from these phrases and mould them into a Psalm that perhaps sums up God’s main words of encouragement to you in this last season.
- Your word today: 1 Corinthians 14:3 says, ‘But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.’ It’s wonderful to receive words like this from others but the Lord wants to encourage us daily, so how about applying this to ourselves and believing for a personal prophecy. Get your pen ready or you finger on your phone and believe God for his words today. Start writing and be blessed by the words that the Lord wants to give you.
- Memorable song: At different times of our lives, there is a particular song that gets our attention and becomes the ‘word of the Lord’ for us. Music is emotional and a song can touch us deeply and minister his peace and presence into our lives. Be attentive for a song that can be meaningful and when you have it, play it regularly and allow key phrases to encourage you and bring life to your day.
- Posture: A man came to a Russian Bishop, wanting proof of Gods existence. The Bishop told him to go home and do 100 prostrations a day for a month, nothing more and then return. After the month, the man returned alive with a sense of God, which showed he had come to know Gods presence through his body in this very humbling posture of bowing. Is there a posture that you can do in your private time with God that expresses your worship to him and that may possibly change your relationship with God?
The list of ways to experience God is endless, but I hope some of these have brought life to your spirit.
Until next month,