Christian Life Hacker – 23 Things

Here is the entire list of the 23 Things. I hope you discovered some new practices and ideas that you hadn’t been exposed to before. Feel free to share the 23 Things with your small groups and disciple groups. Congratulations to Cary Jester who commented on the most items and wins the free book. Thanks to others for reading and commenting.

Week 1: Introduction

1Listen: Podcast on 23 Things and Spiritual Disciplines

2.  Read: A primer on Disciplines, the Holy Spirit, and  Spiritual Growth.

Week 2: Solitude and Silence

3. Read: this article on solitude and silence.

4. Embrace pockets of solitude and silence today. Here are some ideas. Choose what works for you. Every time you find a pocket of solitude and silence, ask God to be with you in a special way.

  • Leave the car radio off while you drive
  • Take a walk around your work place during lunch
  • Limit TV watching to no more than one hour
  • Start a meal with everyone silent. Then have someone read a chapter from Mark before beginning speaking.
  • Park farther away from your intended location to give yourself more time to reflect while you walk.
  • Replay before falling asleep the day’s  events  and notice where God has been present.

Week 3: Prayer and Meditation

5. Explore what Henri Nouwen has to say about prayer

6. Have some fun with your prayers and Pray in Color

7. Learn what makes Christian Meditation different from Eastern Meditation

Week 4: Fasting

8. Read this interview with Scot McKnight on Fasting

9. Participate in a Week of Elimination. In the past, I have eliminated sports from my weekly schedule. If sports is not a distraction for you choose your most attractive guilty pleasure (TV shows, YouTube clips, blogs, Facebook, etc.) and eliminate it from your daily life for one week.

Week 5: Study

10. Watch Paula Gooder talk about “what the Bible is?”

11. Not everyone is bent towards reading and study. Still, you can immerse yourself in scripture through Psalms set to music by Sons of Korah (Click on Listen)

12. Who are your teachers and what are they teaching you? Make a list of your chief influencers, past and present. What aspects of God do you need to study more deeply? Develop a plan to pursue this study of God.

Week 6: Service

13. Read Philippians 2:3-11. What is one way that you could humble yourself today in a tangible way?

14. Make a list of ways that your church is reaching out to its community? Are there areas in the community that are not being reached?

15. Read this excerpt from a commencement address by Dallas Willard:

Remember to live sacrificially.

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the thirty-fifth president of the United States. During his inaugural address, this, the youngest man ever elected president said that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” In this context, President Kennedy issued the following challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

This simple statement, delivered with great fervor, drew forth an amazing current of sacrificial giving from people. This is built into our hearts. We know it’s right. And as Christians we’re the ones who really know what it means and how it can be done.

Don’t strive to advance yourself. Let God advance you. This is a deep psychological and sociological truth as well as a profound theological teaching. If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it. Give it away. God will give it back to you. Don’t make it your aim to get what you want. Serve others. Remember, God gives grace to the humble. He calls us to submit ourselves to the mighty hand of God that, when the time is right, He will lift us up.

I need to add that it’s not safe to be a servant unless you know who you are and unless you stand before God. On the night of His betrayal, just before He shared the Passover with His disciples, …

Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God. So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him (Jn 13:3-5).

Because Jesus knew who He was, because He was secure in His relationship with His Father, He was able to do the work of the most menial slave.

Remember who you are. Keep God before you. Then serve sacrificially. When you serve others, you’re really serving God. Because you are serving God, you give the best of service to other human beings.

Week 7: Simplicity

16. Learn about simplicity from this video

17. Read Matt. 5: 33-37. This is Jesus’ instructions to avoid manipulating and misleading people through the words that we say. The goal is to be the type of person who can simply say “yes” or simply say “no.” Additional information and explanation is usually only used to make sure that others continue to think good of us.

For the next week, attempt to answer questions with a simple “yes” or a simple “no.” Avoid the urge to explain yourself constantly. Make every effort to remove verbal manipulation from your day. Work toward honest and appropriately simple language. Talk about your experiences in the comments below.

Week 8: Worship

18. Watch John Ortberg and Dallas Willard discuss worship. Watch from the 6:00 mark to the 13:00 mark

19. How often do we prepare for worship? One thing we can do is expect to meet God during worship. Next, we can pray for the worship leaders, that they may feel God’s presence and can speak and lead effectively. Third, focus on singing the songs directly to God and listening to God in scripture and preaching. Commit yourself to worship with your heart this week.*

*The idea for this week’s exercise came from the book, A Year With God, by Richard Foster and Julia Roller.

Week 9: Sabbath

20. Read this interview with Pastor and author of The Message, Eugene Peterson.

21. Sabbath accomplishes many things but the most beneficial to our use of time are the following:

1. Cultivates trust in God – Dallas Willard elaborates on this point, “When we come to the place where we can joyously “do no work” (Leviticus 23:3), it will be because God is so exalted in our mind and body that we trust him with our life and our world, and we can take our hands off them.”

2. Reshapes our week – So much of our time is shaped by our responsibilities at work and at home while other parts of our time are shaped by the technologies that we are so attached to. By receiving the Sabbath and its time of rest and worship our entire week can be shaped in a sacred direction rather than a worldly direction. We still have our responsibilities but these duties no longer carry the weight that we had previously assigned to them.

3. Eliminates Hurry – Even if the Sabbath is the only day of the week that we intentionally attempt to rest and not extend ourselves we learn to appreciate what an existence might be like minus hurry and urgency. We can learn that the world can carry on just fine without our input and activity. One hurry free day demonstrates to us that a hurry free existence is possible.

22. Read these guidelines for practicing the Sabbath:

1. Sabbath can be practiced on any day of the week. Sunday is a natural choice because it is the day that we commonly worship and despite recent developments in our culture, it is often a day that includes the fewest responsibilities. If Sunday does not work for you, choose any day that provides you with the most freedom.

2. Start small. Remember that we are not subscribed to the philosophy of more. Try spending two hours after Sunday lunch in quiet reflection, in rest, or recreation. As God enables you over time, try to extend the Sabbath to the entire day.

3. Include your family. Spend your Sabbath with family playing games, cooking meals at home, or outdoor activities.

4. Protect The Sabbath. The first thing that will happen when you decide to receive the Sabbath is that something will occur forcing you to make a choice between your commitment to Sabbath keeping and something else. Though we want to avoid turning this practice into a legalism, we do want to demonstrate conviction regarding the Sabbath. For example, I attempt to complete Weekend errands, housework, and yard work on Saturday in order to free up Sundays for Sabbath keeping.

23. Summarize your thoughts on 23 Things in the comments below.

Running the Race: Training Not Trying

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Rostock-Marathon bei Schmarl, Rostock

Image via Wikipediaspiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Yesterday, I completed a 14 mile training run. This was the longest run that I have completed. I completed it without a whole lot of trouble, pain, or suffering. It seemed to be a natural progression of my previous training.

One quick search on the web for “marathon training” will give you hundreds and hundreds of links to training programs. There may be more training programs than there are marathons to run. Doing this search, it becomes obvious that training is an essential part of completing and excelling in a marathon. No one tries to complete a marathon without training first. The process is training not trying.

This should be the same principle in our spiritual life – training not trying. Have you ever tried to be a better person? Have you tried to be more loving or more compassionate, or more giving? Whenever I am left to my trying I realize that my trying has a short shelf life. Gritting my teeth and straining to be a better person never works over the long haul. Just as gritting my teeth and straining to run 14 miles without the proper training would have left me wasted at about mile 4, straining to be more Christlike without the proper training will leave me guilt ridden and down on myself.

James Bryan Smith, in his book The Good and Beautiful God, details a spiritual growth pyramid that places the narratives of Jesus at the top point, participating in community at the right point, and soul-training exercises at the left point, with the Holy Spirit in the middle.  Smith points out that all of these elements must work together to create a transformed person. Many Christians just focus on right thinking and community and leave off the training aspect. This alone will not create a Christlike person. Others focus on only the Holy Spirit and think that the rest will take care of itself. Spiritual exercises puts your thinking into practice and makes your time in community more meaningful.

Training is essential to completing a marathon and essential to growing spiritually. We do not try harder to be like Christ we train intentionally in the context of right thinking and a loving Christian community.

3 Ways To Concentrate During Prayer

I try to pray every day. I also try to have some moments of silence where I am just thinking about God. But, inevitably these exercises will be made more difficult because of the flood of random thoughts that cross my mind and often take control of my mind to where I end up thinking about something that has no relation to anything. I suspect that this problem is one that most Christian’s experience in some form or the other. So, how can we overcome these distracting thoughts so that our prayers and our meditation on God can be more meaningful? Let me offer three suggestions. Choose whichever one works best for you.

Walking Dog – In most cases we are not able to shut off our random thought process but we can learn to dismiss them quickly. We can begin to treat these thoughts like a dog on the street. The thought surfaces but instead of dwelling on the thought, we simply let it pass on by “down the street” and out of our thinking.

Chalkboard – Here is another instance where we don’t force ourselves to stop the thoughts, we simply acknowledge it and remove it from our thinking. In this method, we envision the thought as if it is written on a chalkboard but as soon as we see the thought on the board we take an eraser and erase the thought. This allows us to return to our prayer or refocus on God.

Breathe In, Breathe Out –  This one is simple. First, we focus on our breathing. Then, we take our next breath and as we are breathing we let our minds be filled with thoughts of God. As we exhale, we let go of any thought that will be a distraction to our time with God. Simply put, breathe God in, breathe distractions out.

Pick one of these methods or try all three today as you say your prayers or spend time with God. See if it helps you overcome some of your more persistent distracting thoughts.

Kick Starting Your Prayer Life

I once heard of a lady who began training for a marathon. Her initial training included the simplest of goals. “Can I run to the next lightpost?” Her approach was to start at the most basic level and work from there. Just a year later she ran in her first marathon.

What if we took her approach and applied it to our prayer life or other spiritual activities that often frustrate us? Besides starting at the most basic point, another principle that can be applied here is Parkinson’s Law. This law states that an activity will increase in complexity based on the time allotted to completing it. In other words, tighter deadlines force us to focus and our attention does not sway to non-essential distractions.

So how can we use the basic approach and Parkinson’s Law to help kick start our prayer life:

1. Start with this basic question, “Can I pray about my love of God?” If the answer is yes, then do it and then ask yourself this, “Can I pray about my devotion to God?” If the answer is yes, then do it and move to a question about your family, then your work, then your church, and then your world. If at any point, you feel distracted or do not know what to pray then stop and try the exercise the next day.

2. Set a tight deadline for your prayer time. If you only have two minutes to pray then you will stay more focused and those pesky thoughts that derail prayer times will seem less important. Of course, I don’t suggest putting huge time constraints on time with God and I realize that God deserves more than two minutes but if the alternative is a non-existent prayer life or an aimless 15 minutes full of drowsiness and daydreaming then do what works best and steadily increase your time.

Why don’t you start now? Push your keyboard away and for the next two minutes go through your basic prayer questions. At the end of two minutes stop and evaluate how it went. Do the same thing tomorrow and increase to three minutes. Try to get up to five – 10 minutes.

The Jesus Chair Incident

Several years ago I read about the Jesus Chair exercise and decided to try it out. The basic idea is you set aside 15-30 minutes and take an empty chair and imagine that Jesus is sitting in the chair. And you simply begin to talk to Jesus as if he was sitting right there in the room with you. There is nothing magical or weird about this exercise, it simply gives you a visual and tangible way of addressing Jesus.

When I did it, I felt awkward for a while but then I began to become more comfortable and open up to Jesus about the things that were bothering me at the time. “It hurts me when I see my mother mourning over the death of her mother.” “It hurts me when I see my wife struggle through some health problems.” “It hurts me when people get dismissed by others simply because of their social status.” “It hurts me when friends of mine struggle with addiction.” “It hurts me when people I know lose their job.” “It hurts me when people in my church treat others in many ways that are not like Christ.” And on and on I went detailing my frustrations, my fears, and my yearning for things to be made right.

Finally, when I shut up, I just sat there. I wasn’t really expecting a reply I just felt good getting all these things off my chest and paused out of exhaustion in a way. But then I heard a reply. It wasn’t audible or mystical but just a still small voice saying these four words, “It hurts me too.” I can not tell you how comforting those four words were for me. Jesus was simply letting me know that he is bothered by these things too and that I am not alone and that he wants to comfort me and that if there is anyone who can make these things right it was him. And that it was for these things that he came and died and was resurrected so that his followers could be free from the chains of evil and brokenness that make up this world.

At that moment, I knew what real hope felt like and I knew what it meant to truly trust Christ with my problems and frustrations. It was one of the most unique and special times in my spiritual life.

I encourage you to try it. You may have to wait till everyone in your house has gone to bed or get up a little earlier than normal. But just take any chair and begin to pour out your frustrations at the feet of Jesus. Your experience may not be exactly like mine but I guarantee you you will come away from the exercise with a sweet sense of Christ’s comforting, merciful, and loving presence.

What Snow Days Tell Us About Our Spiritual Life

As I type this, I have just seen come across my email a notice that my work place will be closed today due to inclement weather. I

have also learned that my daughters’ school will be closed as well. What makes these types of days so much fun for kids, and adults too, is that our routines are broken up and the possibilities for fun and enjoyment seem endless.

We have all daydreamed while sitting at work about what we would be doing if we weren’t at work right then and we are not usually thinking about laundry or yard work. These snow days create a new reality for us, they allow us to think about our existence in a new way, they allow us to live out a day without the normal constraints that seem to hold such a tight grip on us. Sure, some of this thinking is false but for one day at least everything seems bright and relaxed and open to joy, all because of a simple change in our weekly pattern.

This is similar to what we allow to happen when we fast. We are not tortuously depriving ourselves to make us more holy or more austere. We are simply,  intentionally creating an environment that is different enough to allow our perspective on God and his work in our life to become more visible and meaningful. By eliminating something such as food, or anything that is routine or pervasive in our lives, even for a short time, we are giving our existence  just enough of a jolt that meaningful things such as our spiritual life, which usually gets pushed aside, can be dealt with and contemplated in a refreshing way.

Eliminate to Illuminate

If I am not careful, my stack of books to be read can grow by the day. I have never met an interesting website that I didn’t want to subscribe to. If I enjoy a blog or writer I am never satisfied with reading just a few things by them, I have to read their entire body of work. If I find a workout or nutrition program interesting, I want to follow it to the letter even though half of what is being asked doesn’t apply to me or requires too much money or time. Call me obsessive compulsive, a nerd, or even crazy, but what it really comes down to is that I consistently and foolishly think that I can add infinitely more to my life and that somehow that is a good thing.

The truth is, the only effective way to change is by first eliminating all that is a distraction, a burden, or time waster. No one followed Jesus without sacrificing something, maybe even something that was good. Even if we have many Godly things in our lives or Church activities that fill our schedule, we may need to cut some of these things out of our lives so that we can make room for God in an intentional way.

Over the last few years, I have stopped following every sport that showed up on Sports Center and streamlined the teams and events that I will let myself get fanatical about. I have tried to keep the list of books that I am reading at one time down to two so that I can take notes and fully consider what I am reading. I have stopped checking email obsessively and have become okay with emails gathering in my inbox or going unanswered. I no longer feel the need to read a magazine from cover to cover. I have been known to take whole months and devote them to one area of interest or activity instead of being thinned out by trying to keep up with multiple interests.

I mention all of this to possibly help you realize that if you have visions of including more prayer in your life, or reading through entire chapters of the Bible, or being more consistent with your Spiritual Enrichment Workout, you are going to have to eliminate something that you currently do. Piling on things to your already busy schedule cannot be sustained and will only lead to frustration and guilt.

So I would like to propose an exercise to be done starting next Monday and lasting one week. For this activity, I will be going on a Sports Fast where I will not read about or watch sports for one week. I will instead, try to use any extra time or mental storage space for meditating on God, spending time with my family, or praying and reading scripture. Your biggest distraction may not be sports. It may be political talk shows, or Facebook, or reality TV, or People magazine, or iPhone apps. Whatever it is that is teetering on becoming an obsession with you and it is getting in the way of  what is truly important you must eliminate it for one week.

My posts for this week will talk more about fasting and will be designed to prepare us for our upcoming Week of Elimination.

Spiritual Enrichment Workout: Cardio

Some of the benefits of a real cardio workout are increased energy,  lowered stress levels, and better sleep. In other words, positive side effects that carry on throughout the day. My spiritual version of cardio is also designed to benefit you throughout the day and not just during your Workout.

I take a daily devotional book and read that day’s entry. Right now I am reading through A Year With God but I have also used classics such as Streams in the Desert and My Utmost For His Highest. Many famous authors or people of the faith have meditation books taken from their writings. These include C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and Mother Theresa. My wife really enjoyed Voices of the Faithful. Find any Christian book or email service that provides daily meditations or devotionals and close your workout by reading that day’s entry and taking a few minutes to consider its thoughts and challenges.

Just as I let the Holy Spirit guide me to a prayer focus during the Strength section, the cardio/devotional book reading is designed to give me a thought or a challenge for the day. I take the theme and emphasis from the reading and intentionally think about it throughout the day. Perhaps it is short enough that I can return to it during the day and read it again. I particularly like ones that include an activity or exercise related to the reading. Through the exercise, I am not simply going through a mental activity but I am making the theme or emphasis tangible and providing some evidence as to my current spiritual state on the matter.

The bottom line is creating some intentional carry over from my Spiritual Enrichment Workout to the rest of the day. We have all had those experiences where we closed up our Bible or said Amen and that was the end of our time with God not just for that moment but for the rest of the day. Our mission is to make our spiritual workout a time where we are reminded of who God is, hear from him in his Word and through his Spirit, and to take what we have heard and discovered as a challenge for the rest of our day.