Heart Health

I’ve been thinking lately about our union with Christ (we’ve been doing a study on this topic at our church). How is it possible to be one with Christ, and still have so much sin in our lives? How can we be a new person, and still have so many characteristics of the old one? As I pondered this paradox, here’s the analogy that came to me: it’s like a heart transplant. Although this is a modern medical advance, the Bible actually talks about it way back in the Old Testament book of Ezekial:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekial 36:26

In this section, the prophet was telling the people of Israel that despite their sin, God has plans to cleanse and restore them. The ultimate plan, of course, was the coming of the Messiah, Jesus who died for our sins and reconciled us with God. And yes, we are now united with Him. Why aren’t we perfect?

Well, here’s what I think. If you have a heart transplant, I’m sure you wake up feeling very different. Once you’ve recovered from the surgery, you have more energy and strength. You probably feel like a new person! However, this new heart requires some changes in your routines. You probably need to take anti-rejection medications; you need to exercise and eat healthy foods. You may have some bad habits to eliminate. You’re willing to do these things because you never, ever, want to go back to feeling the way you felt before–weak and sick. You will probably find it easier to stick to these new routines if you join a support group — some others with heart issues, who are also learning to live differently.

God gives us a new heart through our union with His Son. We are immediately different, but we still need to do some work. We need the Sacraments (good medicine). We need worship, prayer and Bible study (exercise). We need to refrain from sinful behavior. We need the rest of the body (our support group), the church, to keep us going in the right direction.

Remember friends, you’ve had major surgery. It’s changed you. Someone died and that gave you a chance to live. So stick with the program (God’s program) in order to enjoy the new life you’ve received!

For more about the process of sanctification see these posts:

Is Union with Christ a Process?

Trust God’s Process

Clothed in Christ

Philippians Chapter 1 — What Stands Out

Recently I read a book about spiritual disciplines (Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review) that made me think about something I haven’t done for a while –lection divina.  This is a practice of reading a short portion of Scripture prayerfully, several times, and noticing what word or phrase stands out for you– what’s going on in your life, and what might God be saying to you through this right now.

Here’s what jumped out for me in the first chapter of Philippians:

“I thank God every time I remember you.”  Philippians 1:3

I’m seventy now, so I have a lot of people to remember;  family members and friends from my youth who are still important to me;  my husband, Terry, who has been my life companion;  spiritual mentors and soul friends who have walked with me through different parts of my journey with Jesus; co-workers who helped me and taught me about teamwork;  my children and grandchildren who have made joyful memories for me;  even difficult people who caused me pain have been part of shaping my life, and through them I have learned to be humble, understanding, empathetic and forgiving– after all, I have sometimes been a difficult person, too.

This month of Thanksgiving is a good time to remember and give thanks for all the people God has sent into our lives, whether they’ve been there for a reason, a season or a lifetime. We are not meant to live alone.  Every person in your life is a gift. Pray for them.  Cherish them.  Remember them.

“It is right for me to feel this way about you, since I have you in my heart; …. all of you share in God’s grace with me  God can testify how I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:7-8

For more lectia divina see these posts:

What Stands Out–Jude

What Stands Out? Hebrews Chapter 10

What Stands Out?


What Do You Practice?

I recently reviewed a book about daily practice (The Power of Daily Practice by Eric Maisel–Book Review).  Maybe you think you don’t have one.  The truth of the matter is, we all practice the things that are truly important to us.  For example, I love to read, and even if I don’t have time during a busy day, I read my book for a while in bed before I fall asleep. When my children were small I always read them a bedtime story, because reading is important to me, and I wanted them to share my love.  A while back, I became concerned because my blood sugar was inching toward the “prediabetic” range.  Staying healthy is a goal I have, so I took a class that encouraged me to count calories and exercise.  I’m still doing that.  These sorts of things are daily practices, and when we practice we form habits, and become more proficient in those things.


So, I’m asking our readers to think about the things they practice — if not daily, then regularly.  Is attending worship on your list?  Reading the Bible?  Prayer? Serving others?  If we are Christians, these things should be valuable to us, and we should be practicing.  If you are working or have young children, it may take some thought and discipline to fit them into your schedule, but it can be done.  After all, don’t we find time to prepare food and eat?  These things are our spiritual food and they are needed to nourish our soul and give our lives meaning.

Here are some suggestions I’ve learned from my own experience with establishing  a practice:

  • Start small.  If you have limited time, setting a goal that is too high will lead to frustration and quickly giving up.
  • Have a cue to remind you of your practice.  For example, I spend 10 minutes in prayer after I shower every day;  I read my devotional while I’m having my morning tea.
  • If you mess up, don’t give up.  Just start again tomorrow.

There are many rewards from having a daily or regular practice.  You’ll be healthier spiritually;  your faith will mature;  you’ll find you are accomplishing more for God, and maybe encouraging others!  Start one today!

For more on spiritual disciplines, see these posts:

Piety Part 1- by Jim Edgel

Prayer Disciplines Part 1

Lenten Discipline


Coping With Uncertainty

I don’t know about you, but when things are uncertain, it helps me is to stick to a routine.  For example, if you lose your job, or retire, you should still get up every morning, shower, eat breakfast and perform some daily tasks.  If a loved one dies, or your best friend moves out of the area, you should continue going to work, volunteering, caring for your children or grandchildren, and doing whatever you normally do to interact with others.  Carrying out our usual, normal activities gives life both structure and purpose.  Even if many things have changed, clinging to what remains gets us through that uncomfortable, transitional period.  If we are patient, things settle down and a new normal establishes itself.

This applies to our spiritual life as well.  In 1 Timothy, Paul says:

“…. train yourself to be godly;  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for the present life and the life to come.”  1 Timothy 4:7-8

Just as we should not give up eating healthy foods, or exercising when our situation is chaotic, we should also continue our spiritual disciplines.  That means we must develop those disciplines before uncertainty strikes.  Are you doing this?  Do you even know what they are?

Here are some basic things the Bible tells us we should be doing:

  • Do not to stop meeting together –this means attend worship and other activities with fellow Christians (Hebrews 10:25)
  • Be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12)
  • Know God’s Word –this means reading and studying it (Psalm 119:105)
  • Use your gifts to serve others– this means knowing what your gifts are (1 Peter 4:10)

So, prepare yourself.  Those uncertain times are sure to come.  You’ll cope better if you have a spiritual routine to sustain your faith.


For more posts on spiritual discipline click on these links:

Spiritual Discipline For a Spiritual Life by Donald S. Witney –FTF Book Review

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

Lenten Discipline

A Disciplined Life

Choose Spiritual Health

There was recently an article in our local paper by a doctor, who gave the readers suggestions about making choices that would lead to a healthier physical life.  It occurred to me that most of them can be adapted to living a healthier spiritual life, so here goes

To be healthy physically                               To be healthy spiritually

  1.  Stop smoking                                            Stop sinful habits                                 We know certain things are bad for us, but we often hold onto them out of habit.  What sin do you struggle with most often?  Is it lust, greed, laziness, pride, anger, gluttony or something else?  Make an effort to give it up.
  2. Control your weight                                   Feed yourself spiritually                    It’s been said that you are what you eat.  Nourish yourself by reading God’s Word and reading books and watching television shows that edify instead of feeding yourself with “junk food”
  3.  Exercise                                                      Exercise  your faith                            Your faith will not grow stronger without practice.  Go to worship and Bible study.  Pray.  Make these things part of your weekly routine.
  4. Have regular check-ups                              Meet with a spiritual mentor           Make time to speak with a more mature Christian who will hold you accountable in your faith life and give suggestions about how to grow spiritually.  This could be your pastor, or a Christian friend.
  5. Do something besides work                        Participate in Christian ministry  Helping others will not only spread God’s love in the world, it will make you feel better about yourself and you will spend less time thinking about your problems.
  6. Have someone special in your life              Join other Christians in fellowship God is love, and He made us to give and receive love.  Positive relationships are important to both physical and spiritual health

Most of us are willing to make changes that will improve our lives physically, so why not spiritually?  The same kind of sacrifice and discipline is necessary, and the effects are even more worthwhile.  Since Lent is a time of spiritual discipline, consider which of these healthy habits you can implement.


Mountaintop Blessings

Most Christians have had what they describe as a “mountaintop” experience… a time when they felt especially close to God and keenly aware of His presence and blessings.  Some people may associate that time with their conversion;  others with a special time away on a Via de Cristo or other sort of retreat.  At these times, we feel on fire for God.  We are energized and ready to do anything and everything required of us to lead an authentic Christian life.

My devotional reading this morning focused on how mountaintop times, wonderful and blessed as they are do not last.  We can’t recapture them, but we can continue to use them.

“We must learn to live in the ordinary ‘gray’ day according to what we saw on the mountain.”

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chamber

How were you blessed on the mountaintop?  Were things clearer, brighter?  Did you feel loved and called for a special purpose?  Did you experience the joy of Christian fellowship or the peace that passes understanding? Even Jesus and the disciples experienced this:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9:2-3 ESV)

Yet, they still had the valley of Calvary ahead of them.  I’ve found that continuing in the spiritual disciplines of worship, prayer, study and fellowship (even when the day is gray and I don’t really want to) help keep the mountaintop feelings alive and fresh in my life.  These are the daily blessings that keep us growing in the valley.


Take a Break

“Is not this the fast that I choose;  to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? ”  Isaiah 58:6

Fasting isn’t in vogue these days.  Occasionally during Lent someone will tell me they are fasting from a particular food or drink:  soda, coffee, alcohol, desserts, or meat, for example.  Fasting is a spiritual discipline, undertaken to draw us closer to God.  The idea is, if we fast from food, our hunger reminds us that it is God who gives us everything and nourishes us, not only with food but with His Word.

True fasting means putting God in His rightful place, giving up our idols–or in our modern way of thinking, our addictions.  What distracts you from God?  What fills your time without really “nourishing” you?  Maybe it’s watching TV, surfing the internet, reading romance novels, gossiping with friends, failing to leave your work at work.  Maybe it’s something that seems really commendable like serving in a dozen community organizations, or constantly taking the lead at church.  Too much of a good thing can also distract us from the main thing.  It’s been said that if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.  Multi-tasking is in vogue, but sometimes we need to take a break.  We need to fast.

One of my daughters recently decided to close down her Facebook account, at least for a while.  She said she was seeing a lot of anger about the election, sports teams and other people.  She was reading details of people’s lives that were upsetting and way more than she needed to know. She said there was a lack of courtesy and sensitivity that she found distressing.  She said checking people’s posts was only making her feel upset and frustrated. She also wanted to send a message to her daughter that we can live without social media.  She’s taking a break, a break that will “feed” her in a more nutritious way, and benefit others.

As Lent approaches, I encourage you to think this year about what you need to take a break from.  What can you give up that will be helpful to you and to others.  Take a break from some busyness to pray and read the Bible.  Take a break from Facebook, and send encouraging cards to your friends instead.  Give up sodas and donate the money you save to a worthwhile cause.  You get the idea.  I’m sure you can come up with more.

Here’s more from Isaiah about what will happen if you fast appropriately:

“if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong;  and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”  Isaiah 58: 10-11

Writers and readers … please tell me how you plan to take a break.

PS….I wrote this post early Sunday morning and left it in draft to use today.  I was astounded when I picked up the church bulleting to discover that this passage from Isaiah was the Old Testament reading!  That tells me God is really trying to get the message across to me at least!

Developing Spiritual Habits

Joshua 1:8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.

My husband and I are in real estate together, and he is currently taking a training course that I took a few months back. The other day, he came out of the class and was so excited to tell me about something that I had learned a few weeks ago. Funny, though, how I had completely forgotten about it until just then. That is what happens when you only look at something once. For it to become a part of your daily habits and routine, it has to be studied, re-visited, and discussed on a daily and weekly basis. This is how I see spiritual study as well. The more time that is spent in daily meditation and learning, the more likely one is to reflect those qualities of love and good spirit within their daily life. Your spirituality is a muscle that requires constant learning and growth. In this way, studying the bible for spiritual growth is no different then exercising to retain strength and health. The Bible is not a nice book to be read once and then put in the stack with the other used books. It is a manual and a guide for life that must be read, re-read, and discussed daily to have any real meaning. My goal for the year is to take at least 15 minutes daily to turn off the TV and reflect on God’s word. Anyone else want to join me in this?

Pray Last

Some people like to pray at the end of the day, before going to sleep.  I have more than one friend who gets down on her knees every night, just as her parents taught her to do as a child.  Once on a Via de Cristo weekend, a woman told me she liked to pray in bed, but sometimes she fell asleep before she finished!  She was afraid this was sinful, but I don’t think so.  What could be more peaceful and trusting than to fall asleep in the arms of Christ!

Sometimes at the end of the day I use a tool called the Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.  The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.

The method presented here is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible

This is a version of the five-step Daily Examen that St. Ignatius practiced.

  1.  Sit quietly and become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review your day with God, expressing your gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.  What things brought you closer to God?  What pushed you away from Him?
  4. Choose one aspect of your day to pray about
  5. Look forward to tomorrow.

Maybe you would like to try this prayer exercise.  Let me know how it works for you.