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    Entries in Spiritual Disciplines (18)

    Wednesday
    Feb172010

    Exhaustion and Spiritual Depression

    More from h.koppdelaney on Flickr!When a lull hits in the spiritual life, people look for a cure.  Why does God feel so distant?  Why can't I reclaim a previous experiential connection to God?  Why is it that my faith, which once felt so vibrant, has taken an apparent recess?

    Oftentimes, pastoral counseling in the face of spiritual dryness or depression amounts to more regularity in public worship, more commitment to the spiritual disciplines, participation in a small group, taking up a new Bible study, or engaging in acts of social concern.  And all of these things, in and of themselves, are good.  They may serve as a cure.  But they may not.

    A surprising truth may be that we are doing too much, rather than doing too little, causing our spiritual life to suffer.

    David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon entitled "Weary in Well Doing" observes well that a critical step in diagnosing the reasons for spiritual depression is self-examination.  One must get to the root of the problem.  And while it may be the case that there is presence of sin or the failure to discipline oneself in the practices of the Christian life, the cause may also be sheer exhaustion.  Lloyd-Jones states:

    You may be in that condition simply because you are working too hard physically.  You can be tired in the work and not tired of the work.  It is possible that a man has been over-working--I do not care in what realm, whether natural or spiritual--and has been over-taxing his energy and his physical resources.  If you go on working too hard under strain you are bound to suffer.  And of course if that is the cause of the trouble, the remedy you need is medical treatment.

    Extending pastoral counseling to another person, or to oneself, may require the offering of the choice to stop doing, rather than to start doing.  We live in a culture of over-work, having neglected or obscured the value of the discipline of rest.  If you feel exhausted and far from God, pause and reflect if the neglect of the physical, bodily dimension of your personhood is the root.  It may be the case that altering the rhythm of your life and incorporating rest may serve as the needed course correction, allowing other Christian spiritual practices to then flood and nourish the soul.  We are embodied creatures, this much cannot be denied, and in order for the soul to thrive, the body must be properly tended.  Christianity, inclined to gnosticism, has too often forgotten this truth.

    Monday
    Feb082010

    Brief Book Review :: The Ancient Practices Series: Douglas LeBlanc's Tithing: Test Me in This

    Belief and practice should fit together like hand and glove, and Thomas Nelson Publishing continues to remind us of this very fact through their Ancient Practices Series.  In Douglas LeBlanc's Tithing: Test Me in This, we have yet another helpful installment chronicling a spiritual exercise in the Christian tradition, that of giving.  As noted within the book, the tithe is a Christian spiritual practice commonly regarded with disrepute in a similar way to fasting, and thus is often tragically neglected.  Despite this, LeBlanc seeks to make the case that tithing remains a vital practice in need of recovery, and seeks to demonstrate through storytelling the type of difference tithing can make in the development of Christian character.

    When picking up this book, don't expect an expository guide to the practice of tithing, or a theological treatise on why tithing is a standard Christian practice.  Rather, in this book you'll find a catalogue of modern saints marked by generosity.  In this respect this book has a fantastic implicit message, being that we only learn how to be virtuous by looking to those who are virtuous.  In the most extreme case of generosity, all Christians look to Jesus, who withheld nothing in making possible the salvation of humankind.  But the reality of Jesus becomes more real as we look at those who follow after Christ living the life made possible through him.  Thus LeBlanc's case studies in generosity prove immensely helpful.

    As a biblical studies and theology enthusiast, I was a little disappointed that this book did not address the relevant passages of Scripture and corresponding developments in church history relevant to the practice of tithing.  Other books in this series have given some attention to the biblical and theological roots of the ancient practices, providing a firm foundation that runs deep.  While I was deeply impressed with the case studies provided, and was given some insight when those personal testimonies included a textual or historical basis, direct attention to primary sources would have enhanced the overall quality and utility of this particular book.

    The bottom line: this is a good, quick read with some helpful examples, but I would've found a fuller, multi-dimensional approach to tithing more helpful, particularly considering that so few people understand the theology behind the tithe and the critical need for a generous spirit to bring about the most good in the world.

    Wednesday
    Jan202010

    The Ancient Practices Series :: Scot McKnight's Fasting

    Spiritual disciplines?  The formation of souls?  Training exercises?  In recent years there seems to have been a surge in emphasis on ancient practices and their role in Christ-like growth, and I believe this is a good thing.  

    I recently wrapped up Scot McKnight's Fasting, a volume in Thomas Nelson's Ancient Practices Series.  I'll share a few brief thoughts about the book.

    First, and perhaps most importantly, McKnight challenges the common presupposition that fasting is about obtaining results, and instead offers that the Bible and the Christian tradition teaches us rather that fasting is a natural, inevitable response to a grievous sacred moment.  We do not fast to obtain something, but we fast in order to bring our bodies into contact with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He describes fasting as a movement from (A) the grievous sacred moment (death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness) to (B) fasting, and then finally to (C) response (life, forgiveness, safety, hope, answers, health).  But again and again, through the book, McKnight offers his readers the constant reminder that fasting is not about what some will receive in choosing to fast, as though we could control God through the exercise of discipline, but that fasting is a healthy, human expression of embodied spirituality that properly orients us toward the Divine when we are faced with hardship.

    McKnight's book is filled with numerous biblical and historical examples of how fasting has been utilized and understood.  McKnight identifies how fasting is a proper response to sinfulness, is a helpful expression of solidarity with the poor and oppressed, commonly undertaken to express grief, and can be utilized to discipline the body.  He warns against some of the common errors that can occur when one fasts, including hypocrisy, legalism, and meritoriousness.  He also directly addresses some of the health related questions and concerns that surround fasting.

    As someone who is trying to further develop an understanding of Christian spiritual disciplines both in order to teach and more faithfully practice, McKnight's book provided many helpful insights.  I'd say it is worth checking out.

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