My Response to “Sacred Rhythms”

I am happy to report I completed my first Recalibrate Life Read for 2019. The book I read was Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. I went through this book chapter by chapter, and took time to engage in most of the practices suggested.

Barton shares in the introduction what spiritual transformation is. She explains that it is “all about choosing a way of life that opens us to the presence of God in the places of our being where our trust, desires, and deepest longings stir.”

The book begins with a chapter on our longings and the importance of recognizing them. We need to honestly reflect on what we want and then bring those longing before the Lord. Barton uses the Bible story of Bartimaeus to help us reach deep inside to find our own longings. In that story Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you?” Barton asks us to ask ourselves the same question as if from the Lord and share our responses with Him. I took time to do this, it was refreshing. Some very deep longings came to the surface. My time of telling the Lord what I longed for was so filled with tenderness. I think I have voiced needs that come out of these longings, but I do not think that I have ever really talked about what was at the bottom of those needs, the longings beneath my neediness. I felt vulnerable and exposed in being so real, but I left that time with the Lord feeling held and heard in my reaching out to Him.

Barton continues the book discussing solitude and how taking time alone creates space for God. Life gets so busy and with technology we are constantly on call. Barton shares that she has found how important it is for being present with what is real in her life. She talks about sitting in our feelings, our grief, our tears, our questions, our anger, and our loneliness, or whatever we are feeling or experiencing, allowing the Lord to be with us in that place. Knowing His presence in that deep place leads to a deeper intimacy with Him and it helps us to know ourselves better. Too often in the crazy chaos of life we instead bury our feelings not even taking time to acknowledge their presence, let alone sit in them.

Another discipline discussed in this book was that of reflecting on and responding to small portions of Scripture through the practice of Lectio Divina. I took time to linger in the Word and to linger with the Lord savoring what He was showing me in the Scripture I selected for this time. I had chosen Psalm 23 verses 1-3a to read, a very short selection, but it was so full and rich. Lingering there in the tender, green pastures and the still, fresh waters, I learned more about true rest. In these verses I also recognized my need for soul-refreshing restoration. Just rest. Just trust. I am your protector and provider. I will restore and refresh your weary soul. That is what the Lord told me in these words of David’s precious Psalm. And I took that with me through my day.

The next chapter was on Prayer. Barton says,“Prayer is all the ways in which we communicate and commune with God. The fundamental purpose of prayer is to deepen our intimacy with God.” What could be more important than that? The practice in this chapter was “breath prayer.” It is about learning to be present with the Lord throughout your day. I chose my prayer to be, “My Sweet Abba. Help me abide.” The busyness of life often keeps me from abiding, but taking time to come to the Lord throughout my day with these words, relaxed me, and drew me in. My first experience with breathing this prayer touched my heart deeply. The picture that came to mind was that of being in the shadow of His wings, so close, so protected, so safe. It brought me to tears. Breath prayer has become a daily slow-me-down prayer and it has been wonderful to stop momentarily and remember I am not alone in my day. How very important it is to draw near to Him and know His loving presence in the midst of the frenetic pace of our days.

Barton discusses honoring our bodies in another chapter. This one is about considering how we have been created for wholeness. She suggests intentionally connecting spiritual practices with physical activities like walking meditation. I did not work through this practice. It is something that I am hoping to go back to.

Barton also discusses self-examination. She explains two practices of examen, as well as confessing our sinfulness, and asking for forgiveness. It is all about taking time to look deeply at the week you are in or the day you have just completed and really consider how you have lived it and responded to it. The thing I recognized in this practice is that in my busyness I often miss recognizing the Lord’s presence with me. I have considered this before, but it became very real to me here. I also realized how easily sinful attitudes and responses can be completely dismissed as I continue through my day. It is difficult to look so closely at your attitudes and behaviors and realize how focused you are on the tasks at hand. This practice is one I want to repeat weekly (at least), it seemed very important to me.

Discernment was one of my favorite chapters. Barton says that discernment is “a way of looking at all of life” then “sensing the movement of God’s Spirit and abandoning ourselves to it.” I love that definition. The other thing that stood out to me in this chapter was where she talked about the need for indifference to anything but God’s will. She suggests that we ask ourselves the question: “What needs to die in me in order for God’s will to come forth in my life?”  I will be returning to this chapter often also.

Another discipline discussed was that of Sabbath-keeping. Sabbath-keeping is about establishing rhythms of work and rest in our lives. This is not at all a legalistic practice, but instead a gift from the Lord for our good. He offers us time to find rest for our bodies, replenishment for our spirit’s, and restoration for our souls. Barton offers a lot of good ideas or options for practicing this discipline, even if we just start small. There are so many benefits.

Finally, the book ends with chapter on cultivating rhythms for spiritual transformation through the structure of a “rule of life”. Barton says the “rule of life” makes us ask ourselves the question, “How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be?” A rule of life is a means of “opening ourselves in a consistent manner to God’s transforming work in us.” This chapter forced me to decide if I would intentionally put any of these disciplines into practice in my life and how I would do that. I definitely want to put some of them into practice. I am starting small and hoping to grow in into practicing more.

I enjoyed this book a lot, I learned a lot, and I feel that the practices I choose will definitely be helpful in growing in intimacy with the Lord as well as in recalibrating my life.

I especially enjoyed the questions she brought to the chapters, they caused me to deeply reflect and encouraged me to respond in prayer. So many ways to deepen my intimacy with the Lord. Even if there was only one practice that pulled me in, this book was well worth the time it took to read.

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Growing in Grace through Meditation, Reflection, and Journaling

Are your growing in grace as you take time to reflect on God’s Word?

Do you see the relevance of His Word for your life as you read it?

Do you feel yourself taking it to heart and really living out the truth nuggets that stand out to you?

Last week we talked about the importance of soul friendships in our lives to help us grow in our relationship with the Lord. There is so much growth that can occur as we share with a spiritual friend about the Lord, His Word, and His work in our lives. But we need to be intentional in our daily lives to grow in grace through being in the Word and in being alone with God.

We can take time to read our Bibles, check the box on our to-do list that says “done” to us, and move on with our busy days. I sadly have to admit I have done that. And although I could say that I was reading the Bible, I took nothing into my heart and it had very little effect on my life.

So what can you do? How can you make it matter? How does this growing in grace stuff really happen?

I think it is really important to come to the Word wanting to know the Lord more, wanting the Holy Spirit to lead you and to give you awareness of what He wants to show you and teach you. I haven’t always done that. I suppose it is because it means slowing down, being quiet, and stopping to pause as He leads. All too often my mind is racing ahead to my to-do list.

The Lord knows our hearts, our minds, and our lives. He knows where we need wisdom, knowledge, conviction, and guidance. So, I am trying to slow down more and more. I am taking to time to really meditate and reflect on the Word as I read. This means I choose a portion of the Scriptures to read, read it through, and slowly take in what is being said.

I find it helpful to compare translations of the Bible as I am reading. I especially like to look at the Amplified version alongside a New International Version or an English Standard version.

Many times I take time to rewrite some of the Scripture I am studying. I may rewrite it in my own words just to help me personalize it or oftentimes I write it into a prayer. I read a few verses and realize I want the Lord to work that in my heart and life and I turn it into a prayer.

Recently I was reading in Acts 11 and came to verse 23, I read:                                                                                      “When he arrived and saw what grace (favor) God was bestowing upon them, he was full of joy; and he continuously exhorted (warned, urged, and encouraged) them to all cleave unto and remain faithful to and devoted to the Lord with [resolute and steady] purpose of heart.” (emphasis mine) 

Immediately I thought, I want that (the portion in bold in the above passage). I rewrote it into a prayer asking the Lord to help me to cleave to Him and to be faithful and devoted with a resolute and steady purpose of heart. The words of that verse perfectly declared what my heart yearns for in my relationship with the Lord. I actually didn’t write this prayer in my journal instead I just wrote it in my Bible near the verse.

As I read there are often keywords that stand out to me. Words that I need better understanding of, or words or phrases that just touch my heart and I want to know more. Sometimes I use my Concordance to compare the words in some other verses, and other times I research meanings in a Bible dictionary or other Bible helps.

There are also times when those keywords stand out, that I realize it is truly the Holy Spirit shining a light into the dark crevices of my heart where I have hidden sinful attitudes and thoughts. At those times the Spirit convicts me and leads me to repentance. I recognize that I am doing what the Lord commands me not to do, or I am not responding in the loving way I should. And once again, the Word leads me to prayer. I talk with the Lord about why I am struggling with this issue, that person, or both. I ask for forgiveness from Him, and for help with the person or issue, whether that be for help to forgive or accept or to just know what He wants me to do.

When I slow down and take time to reflect on the Word, I relate it to my own feelings, actions, behaviors, attitudes, and situations. I think about what I may need to change, what areas I need to grow in, and seek guidance as to how to go forward. There are so many lessons in the Word. We can take the key words and phrases to heart and chew on them all day long taking them with us in our minds and thinking on them as we move through our day consciously aware of what the Lord is teaching us.

Of course, since I love to write, much of this process is recorded in my journal. I want to remember what I am learning as I read the Word. I want to remember what the Holy Spirit shows me about me that I have been blind to. I want to be able to see the Lord at work on my behalf helping me to grow in grace as He answers my prayers. I write key verses, I write my thoughts and my questions. And I write my prayers.

I use to write out all of my prayers years ago, but after a while I felt like I was just repeating some of the same things and it became a chore. Yet, I knew I wanted to record my prayers. I felt stuck and was unsure what to do. I have since found that keeping a small booklet with prayer lists for the people I pray daily or frequently for works very well. As I read my Bible I find verses that seem to say exactly what I want to pray for those dear ones and I write these verses on that person’s page and pray through the verses as I bring their needs before the Lord.

I still record prayers in my journal but they are the prayers I personalize from the Word and prayers for things that I want the Lord to work on in my heart and life. I record prayers that come out of “the cellar of my soul.” I record my confessions of bad attitudes, and sinfulness, I write about my fears, my personal heartache, areas of neediness and hurt, and things relevant to that day that I want to give to the Lord.

Yes, this all takes time, and some days I get bogged down because I get frustrated but I am continuing to grow. I am learning and I am excited about the things the Lord is showing me and helping me with.

I have found a couple of books along the way that have been very helpful, I am sure there are many others you may be familiar with but these have led me in my learning.
1. Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth by Luann Budd
2. Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney

The Lord desires that we come to know Him more and we do that through learning in His Word, and experiencing His presence in our daily moment-to-moment lives. I hope that you have found something here that will help you in your journey in growing in grace.

Next week we will look at Growing in Grace through Celebration: Praise and Worship.