The Practice of “Slowing”

One of the great books on spiritual disciplines is John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  You can read my review of the book by clicking here.

One of the spiritual disciplines he talks about in the book is the practice of “slowing.”  Have you ever thought about “slowing” as a spiritual practice?  One of his mentors told him that if he wanted to grow spiritually that he must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from his life.  Listen to a great quote from his book:

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.  Hurry can destroy our souls.  Hurry can keep us from living well….Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry.  For many of us the great danger is not that we renounce our faith.  It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.  We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.

Most of us battle the hurry sickness, but how can we treat it–how can we cure it?  There are two main practices that can help us swim against our culture’s current of hurry.

1.  Slowing.  Slowing involves cultivating patience by deliberately choosing to place ourselves in positions where we simply have to wait.  Slowing will seem like such a “waste of time,” but it is invaluable.  Here are some examples.  Deliberately drive in the slow lane.  Chew your food slowly.  Get in the longest check-out line at the grocery store.  Go through an entire week without wearing a watch.  Read each sentence slowly–then read it again even more slowly.

2.  Solitude.  Solitude is a more traditional spiritual practice.  I’m not saying that we should take it to the extreme and join a monastery.  I’m just saying that solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will otherwise relentlessly mold us.  When we’re “alone” with God–He molds us!

We need some small measures of solitude every day.  A walk, a short drive, working in the yard, sitting in the car before going into the office, a quiet time–all these serve as moments of solitude.  On occasion, we need longer periods of solitude.  Take an afternoon to yourself or even an entire day.  Go to a place where you will be uninterrupted and alone.  Spend the day relaxing, reading, walking, napping, etc.

Both of these practices have been vital to my spiritual growth and to my ability to hear from God.  By the way, if you haven’t read John Ortberg’s book on spiritual disciplines, you must do so.  Here’s a link to Amazon where you can purchase the book and get started.  I wish I had read this book as a new Christian and learned about the practice of “slowing” and many of the other spiritual disciplines that have helped me to grow in recent years.

3 Keys to Following God

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Gospel of Mark. I like his “just the facts” approach to the Gospel story. I had a little laugh recently while reading the following passage:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  Mark 1:35-38 (NIV)

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Jesus left as soon as the crowds began to gather? Typically, most leaders are hoping to draw a big crowd, but Jesus did something quite unusual at that point. When His ratings spiked–He took a hike! When the numbers were high–he said goodbye. When the crowds grew–he bid them adieu.

Doesn’t that strike you as being unusual? Why did Jesus do that? What can we learn from this story? Here are three keys to following God as a true believer.

3 Keys to Following God

1. God’s plan is rarely like our plan. He knows best, so we should trust Him and follow Him. He often leads us to do the unexpected…..the unpredictable…..the unthinkable!

2. We should never allow others to shape us by their expectations. I am a people-pleaser and the opinions of others matter greatly to me. But, I know that I should seek to live for an audience of one. Although we want to be good examples to those around us, ultimately, we should simply try to please God.

3. We should never exchange good for God. Some things are good to do, but they are not the things God has led us to do–they are good, but they are not God. The challenge is to live in such a way that we can discern the difference.

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4 Life Lessons from Hiking

The last few years, Laura and I have become interested in hiking. We don’t plan to thru-hike the Appalachian or the Pacific Crest trail anytime soon–we mainly focus on day hiking. As a result, we enjoy the trail with very little planning and minimal cost. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of similarities between hiking and everyday life.

4 Hiking Lessons

1. Good equipment helps. Good hiking shoes, trekking poles, and backpacks make hiking more enjoyable and hikers more proficient. Likewise equipping ourselves as pastors, disciples, church members, and/or parents makes all the difference. We don’t know what we don’t know, so it helps to be equipped with new knowledge and abilities.

“We don’t know what we don’t know…”

2. Sometimes you hike uphill. We love trails that have lots of climbing. We seek them out when we plan. It’s great exercise to make your way up a long, challenging climb. It’s so rewarding when you reach the top. Life often seems like a long, challenging climb. Christians are not exempt from difficulty. Those difficult life moments often shape us into better people and mold us into more dedicated Christians.

3. Sometimes you hike downhill. Trails that go up eventually come down. Going downhill is easier, but not without challenge. You can easily lose your footing because you are moving faster and with little resistance. Going downhill can lead to a lack of concentration and focus which usually ends poorly. Life is a lot like going downhill. When things are going well and success seems easy we often make quick and uninformed decisions that cause us to fall. “Downhill” makes us feel invincible which leads to decisions laced with arrogance. Solomon warned us that “Pride comes before destruction and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, HCSB).

“Downhill makes us feel invincible which leads to decisions laced with arrogance.”

4. You can do more than you think. Now that we are hikers, we’ve climbed hills we never imagined that we could. Slowly, steadily, step after step–eventually we reach the top! I’ve watched several YouTube channels of men and women who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. When they finished the 2,181-mile trek, they were amazed they covered the entire distance on foot. One guy said, “It blows my mind to think that I just walked from Georgia to Maine!” We should dream big and shoot high in life and in Christ! Through Him and over time we can do more than we could ever imagine (Phil 4:13).

A Real Bullseye

A little boy got a real bow and arrow for his 10th birthday and immediately went outside to practice in his yard. A few minutes later his father stepped outside to check how he was doing and was amazed to see a dozen arrows dead in the center of a dozen different bull’s-eyes that were painted on the trees in the backyard.

“That’s astounding, Son! You just got that bow a few minutes ago. How do you manage to hit a bullseye every time?” “Easy, Dad. First I shoot the arrow. Then wherever it lands, I paint circles around it!”

…wherever it lands, I paint circles around it!

That’s a cute story, but a deeper lesson is easy to find. I have found that many live theirs lives exactly that way. Instead of aiming for the targets of life set forth by the Bible, they draw circles around their own lifestyles and call it a bullseye. As a preacher, I must strive to preach the truth of the Bible without compromise. When this is done, we know where to aim in life.

As a preacher, I must strive to preach the truth of the Bible without compromise.

As Christians, we should stand for what’s right! We should stand for the truths in the Bible. I believe if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything! With that in mind, let’s stand for what we know is right even when others don’t understand. I like the way the Apostle Paul said it in Philippians 3….

Instead of aiming for the targets of life set forth by the Bible, they draw circles around their own lifestyles and call it a bullseye. 

“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14

Paul did not say, “I’m not pressing toward anything in particular . . . I’m just drawing a bullseye around my lifestyle.” Paul didn’t say, “I press toward what this cultural deems acceptable.” Paul didn’t say, “I press toward what would make me appear to be a really super nice guy!” No! Paul said, “I press toward the mark!”

This mark had been set forth for Paul by the Lord. Our marks are given to us in God’s Word. Take a solid stand on God’s Word, but be nice about it!

3 Keys to a Successful Year

Success

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14, ESV

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, he gives us insight into his personal walk with the Lord.  You could call it a “formula for success” or as I prefer, “keys to success in our walk with the Lord.”

THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS IN 2022

1.  Release the past.  The Apostle Paul said, “….But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind….” (Vs. 13).  He is not saying that he actually lost memory of the past, he is saying that he put the past in the proper place–behind him!  He knew that the past can cause us to lose focus on the present and block our vision of the future.  He knew that the past can sometimes riddle us with guilt, lure us, haunt us, taunt us, rob us of intensity and passion, and even cause us to rest on our laurels.  Regardless of what we faced in 2021, let’s learn, let go, and move forward.

2.  Reach for the future.  Paul seems to say, “don’t look back, but BE SURE to look forward.”  He describes it as “…..straining toward what is ahead.”  I can remember running my first 10K race when I was 30-yrs.-old.  Because of my excitement, I started the race at a pace that was too fast for my fitness level.  As a result, my side began to hurt at mile 3 and I desperately wanted to stop and walk.  At that point, I saw my wife standing on the side of the road, so I didn’t want to quit in front of her.  Somehow, I kept plodding along and shortly after I passed the 5-mile marker, I saw the finish line about a mile away.  Something about seeing the finish line lifted my spirits and injected bounce in my step.  I finished fairly strong even though I had almost stopped to walk just a few miles earlier.  Paul seems to say that he keeps the finish line in view and it encourages him to do his best.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, let’s set some goals for 2022–spiritual goals, financial goals, vocational goals, fitness goals, nutritional goals.  Let’s “reach” for those goals day-by-day throughout this new year.

3.  Run for the prize.  What is Paul talking about when he talks about “the prize”?  We know he is not saying that we can live in such a way that we earn salvation because he just said in Vs. 9 that righteousness is “through faith in Christ.”  I believe Paul is saying that he is running for the goal of pleasing Jesus with his life and running for the satisfaction of knowing that he gave his best.  He is saying what he later says in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  If God tarries His coming and if He allows us to live to see 2023, I pray that we will be able to say the same about the way we served the Lord in 2022.

PRAYER:  “Lord, please help us remember the lessons you taught us in 2021, but Lord, help us to release last year and not relive it.  Help us to see Your plan and goals for 2022 and strain towards them in the power of Your Holy Spirit.  Help us to cherish your divine approval as our highest prize!  Be glorified in our lives!  Amen.”