Introduction to Lent
This year we are going to be reading through the Gospel of John together.
A problem of vicarious spirituality…
One of the problems facing the church in the UK is that many people in the church are living off another person’s spirituality…. We might call it vicarious spirituality?
People rely on another person or persons to give them what they need to live the Christian life. It could be the home group leader, parent, internet preacher, favourite Christian author, church leader, anyone….. This is unhealthy as that person stands in as the source of spiritual nourishment rather than God.
How many times have you heard people say that they left a certain church because “We are not being fed”?
The Amersham martyrs died 500 years ago. There is a stone memorial on the site behind Tesco’s to the six men and one woman who were burnt at the stake. They died for the principles of religious liberty, for the right to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures and to worship God according to their consciences as revealed through God's Holy Word. People died so that they could feed themselves directly from the word of God without it being interpreted by someone else.
I notice this about the manna in the desert …… from Exodus 16:1-31
- Everyone collected their own
- Everyone collected it daily
- It was not dished out from a central store or source
- Moses and Aaron collected it just like everyone else
I am not saying we never learn anything from anyone else and I am not saying that listening on a Sunday morning isn’t helpful…. But if that is the only time we eat then we are going to get rather thin…!
Some Christians have become spiritually anorexic.
One way to guard against this is to develop our own rhythm for our walk with God. Make sure we receive regular sustenance from the source of all spiritual nourishment.
Developing Your Own Rhythm
Find a time….
Some people are morning people others are not. There are some people even Jesus doesn’t want to talk to in the morning! What time of the day fits in best with your routine and the type of person you are?
Once you have set a time in the day stick to it. A time with God that has no fixed time in the day tends to have no fixed time in a day! We are creatures of habit. We need a rhythm…. When our rhythm gets disrupted then things tend to fall apart.
Let’s start small. We can always increase the time as we find a rhythm. So I would say if you are starting out, or rebuilding, try for 5 or 10 minutes a day. Now I know that sounds impossibly short, but better to have a regular time with God of 5 minutes than no time. And the thing is to stick to the length of time you decided on for a while. You might be tempted to go longer – super size your time with God – but experience shows that if you allow the length to vary depending on mood it has a habit of evaporating when you are not quite in the mood…………
Find a place….
Good – we have the time sorted we now just need a place. At the start of Mark’s gospel (Mark 1:35), Jesus has had a hectic day preaching, healing all and sundry. In the morning no one can find him. Simon Peter eventually finds him and says “everyone is looking for you!” Presumably that’s the way Jesus wanted it – not to be found….. Jesus deliberately hid from everyone.
Pick a place where you will not be found, where you will not be disturbed…. It’s good to have a set place away from distractions. You could even turn your mobile off…!
When we are reading the Bible it is a good idea to think of it in five separate chunks…
Pray… Read… Think… Write… Respond…
I find it helpful just to start by praying in tongues. It sort of tunes me in to God? When we pray in tongues our spirits are communing directly with God.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. – Romans 8:26-27
It lifts us to a different level and makes us spiritually alert. That might leads us off in some direction for a while. We might be lost in thanks or be aware that we need to confess some sin or other.
Then perhaps dedicate the time to the Lord to do with as He pleases.
It is good to ask the author of the book to let you know what he had in mind when it was written. The Holy Spirit is more than able to help.
"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. – John 16:12-15
This can be a very simple prayer…
Get a version of the Bible you are happy with…. NIV, NLT, Tom Wright, etc. Download an audio or iPhone app…(Paul Avery resident app).? If you are very used to one translation such as the NIV why not use a different one to freshen things up a bit? Get a study Bible with some notes to help you.
Read slowly. It can be helpful to read the passage through once and then go back a read it again once you have a sense of it. Consider that each line is God speaking to you!
Don’t assume you know what the story is about….yes, yes I know this one! blah blah blah! Often God can open a familiar passage in a very different way if we are open.
Stop if anything catches your attention. Don’t be afraid to underline or highlight bits that speak to you… Top Trumps!
It is all there for a reason. Stop if anything doesn’t seem to follow on from what went before – what was in the author’s mind?
Can you imagine yourself into the story….where is Jesus, what is he doing, what is his expression, what does it feel like, what is everyone doing, thinking, saying???? What does it look like?
Is there some odd detail which seems a bit of an add-on to the story – it is there for a reason!
What is this passage saying about God?
What is this passage saying about Jesus?
What is this passage saying about the Holy Spirit?
What is this passage saying about Human Nature?
What is the main subject of the passage?
What is the key verse?
Is there a command to obey?
Is there any sin mentioned in the passage that I need to confess or stop doing?
Is there a principal to learn?
Is there a promise made that I can apply to my current circumstances?
Is this saying something to my life right now?
Is there a prayer I can pray?
How can I apply it in my everyday life?
If you get stuck try reading the passage in a different translation. Or get a decent commentary. The study Bible is great just to get you thinking.
Sometimes we need to wrestle with it – it will mean more to us at the end and we are unlikely to forget it!!
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. – Proverbs 25:2
This really is an important bit and the one I most normally want to skip!
Write down anything you don’t understand…
Write down what you take away from the passage, any insights or thoughts that were initiated by the passage?
Write a precis
Write down anything that you feel the Lord telling you to do via the passage.
Write out the key verse so you can remember it.
Just start writing and things will occur to you…
Normally this is via a prayer… Turn the passage into a prayer.
Lord you are amazing, that was brilliant! – that’s a prayer of praise.
Lord, thank you for coming to find me! – that’s a prayer of thanks
Lord, help me to be more loving! – that’s a prayer of petition
Agree before God to some course of action…
Okay so we have a time and a place and we have a structure for reading if that is what we want to do.
Of course the idea is to extend our “awareness” of God into the day so it’s not just a Quiet Time but a Quiet Life….
We must develop our own rhythm for our walk with God if we are not going to fall into the trap of vicarious spirituality – living off someone else’s time with God.
My prayer is that during Lent we will build up a strong habit of seeking God and being aware of His direction and presence in every aspect of our lives throughout the day.