Spiritual Disciplines: Why are they so Critical Now?
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Spiritual Disciplines: Why are they so Critical Now?

Connecting with God in the midst of a pandemic

COVID-19 has derailed the mundane routines of life. When the alarm goes off, we no longer hustle to get out the door to our places of employment. We no longer need to make the 8:08 AM train. We no longer slog through the morning rush hour traffic while listening to our favorite podcasts and playlists. Instead, many of us are adjusting to the new disorienting realities of working from home, educating kids in their pajamas, and reimagining how to meet the needs of our congregations from outside the church walls.

We’ve adjusted how we do Sunday morning worship, small groups, Bible studies, recovery groups, food pantry services, and more. These adjustments come at a cost as we spend extra hours on the phone, reading emails, and attending virtual meetings bringing teams up to speed. For the pastors, this is all in addition to the routine ministry responsibilities such as counseling and sermon prep. As we get caught up in the tempest of ever-changing realities presented by COVID-19, some of us may be forgoing the spiritual disciplines that should be serving as our life preservers. Now, more than ever is the time to embrace the spiritual disciplines so we do not forget who God is, what God has done, and what God can still do today.

Remember, Remember, Remember!

Throughout the Old Testament God encourages his people to remember their past. They are told to remember:

  • Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the founding fathers of the faith (Deuteronomy 9:27)
  • The ways they messed up when they traveled through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 9:7)
  • How God created them and how God does not forget them (Isaiah 44:21)
  • God’s instructions and way of life as it is written the Scriptures (Malachi. 4:4).

Even in their ancient hymnal, the book of Psalms, we discover how important it was for the people to remind each other of the mighty and wondrous acts of God. Psalm 105:5 states, “Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced.” The people would have recited or chanted this together in song.

What are the wondrous acts in view here? This particular psalm is situated in a series of psalms that review God’s actions in the grand story and Israel’s place in it. Psalm 105 recounts Israel’s specific history and rise as a nation, how God guided Joseph down into Egypt and used him to provide for many people during a difficult famine, the hardship Joseph’s descendants faced, and the way God commissioned Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. The song continues by reviewing all the ways God protected and provided for the Israelites as he led them into the Promised Land.

The psalm compels us to remember the wondrous works that God has done, his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered. Remembering is an activity that requires us to slow down enough to recall and review God and his mighty acts to save, restore, and redeem his creation. When we forgo the activity of remembering, we begin the journey of forgetting. This is precisely why Moses made such a big deal about remembering when he gave his farewell speech to the Israelites at the foot of Mount Nebo in Deuteronomy 8.

Beginning in Deuteronomy 8:2, Moses presses the people to remember all the ways God cared for them in the wilderness and likens God’s care to the way a father teaches and nourishes a son. Right after these reminders, Moses describes for the people what happens when they forgo the activity of remembering God’s mighty acts. He warns them not to forget who the LORD is, what his instructions teach, and the potential pitfalls that can accompany a comfortable and full life when our hearts become overly confident and we begin to think we have built the good life, not the LORD. Moses continues by reminding the people to never forget how the LORD freed them from Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and provided water and bread for them on their journey.

Many of us know the temptations Moses warns the Israelites about. It is too easy to begin thinking that our own might, genius, and will have brought about achievement and progress. The way to curb such thinking, according to Moses, is to remember God and his mighty acts to save.

Thus, it is critical in these unprecedented and difficult times that we take time to remember and take care not to forget who God is, what God has done, and what God can still do in spite of a pandemic. To aid us in the process of remembering, God invites us to partake in a whole host of spiritual disciplines, below are just a few for us to consider in the days ahead.

Sabbath

In Mark 2:27 Jesus teaches, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath day is a gift God gives us to enjoy. The Hebrew root of the word means “to cease” or “to stop” and in the context of Scripture, the idea is that we are to stop working the same way God stops working after he creates the cosmos. If God rests, and we are his image-bearers here on earth, then we too should rest. While we are created to care for people by fielding phone calls and text messages, crafting emails, writing sermons, and leading small groups; we also are created to pause from all of this to be in the presence of God and family and creation. In the Sabbath moment, we are no longer hustling to create ministry—we are resting, enjoying, and remembering that which is already.

Scripture

One of the greatest ways to remember the mighty acts of God is to meditate and reflect on Scripture. Consider in the days ahead memorizing a psalm or reading through a whole gospel in one sitting. Many of us are in the Scriptures every day preparing the next lesson or sermon and this is good, but we also need to allow Scripture to nourish our own souls by shutting down everything around us and opening the text and reading.

Song

Many of us remember through song. Whether it’s reciting the verses of the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” or resting in the latest song by your favorite worship leader, this is one way we can remember God’s promises to care and provide for us.

Service

The actions of serving someone a meal or the gift of presence are the physical expressions of the spiritual disciplines we can pursue. When we serve someone, we have the opportunity to join God’s grand story of sacrifice and service and thereby remember it by actually doing it.

Silence

In 1 Kings 19. Elijah is running for his life through the wilderness all the way to Mount Horeb. In verse 12 Elijah hears God in a “whisper.” The Hebrew word for “whisper” conveys the idea of “stillness” or “silence.” It is in the silent and still moments that God whispers reminders of his promises to us.

Solitude

Jesus often went to high mountain tops or desolate places during his ministry to speak with his Heavenly Father. Follow Jesus’ example and carve out the time for a walk with God through the neighborhood. The times of solitude with God often become times of reorientation and refocusing around the very callings God has placed on our lives.

As we learn of harrowing situations across America and the globe, we must turn our attention to God and take time to remember who God is, what God wants, what God has done, and what God can do. When we do this in the moments of solitude, Sabbath, and silence we will know the heart of God, we will pray for the front-line medical workers, we will pray for the sick—both those we know and those we do not. When we meditate in the Scriptures, we will know how to respond and how to serve the millions affected by COVID-19.

Oliver Hersey is the Pastor of Discipleship at Calvary Church in Orland Park, IL and host of SmallGroups.com’s podcast Transforming Discipleship.

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