As we study our purpose as women, and understand better how to fight as ezer-warriors in the circles that are ours, a couple themes keep surfacing: Inner stillness. Intimacy with God. Perseverance. Dependence on our Maker. Focus. Intentionality.
It will be a lifetime’s exploration to discover how to be God’s image-bearers in this world: in this season of life… in the hard things we face… in these particular relationships… in the changing currents of opinion. We all know that Everyday gets complicated and that it is way too easy to lose sight of how Jesus would handle this situation, or how He would love. But perhaps we can go on from here in the pursuit of these basic themes? If we can embrace these simple values as we run our Faith-race, the rest will become clear as we step forward.
Of course they are not simple in the sense of being easy; none of these inner practices were part of our old lives, so as new creatures we often feel like we are learning to walk all over again. Jesus said it would not be easy. “But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:14) The broad easy way only leads to death, and who wants to spend a precious short life running there? No, these practices are simple in the sense of being foundational… basic first steps that everything else will depend upon. The ancient church called them spiritual disciplines– a good term, but one that makes us a little wary in the modern world. We are not entirely sure what it means and discipline tends to make us think of correction and punishment that we would rather avoid. Distressingly, the dictionary agrees that we have lost the valuable meaning of the word; the definitions pushed to the end of the list are the ones that bloom rich with benefit: “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character….self-control…orderly conduct or pattern of behavior.” It sounds like the tough training of an athlete or a cadet, but the cost is worth it when we are looking for a Life-lived-well, that leaves something meaningful behind. After all, if we are running without direction or guidance, we are expending a huge amount of effort to get nowhere.
So these foundational themes that we desire may not come naturally, but with some practice they can become new pathways of growth, new habits that can break through our familiar comfortable routines and thought patterns, to help us focus on spiritual things. We can choose to cultivate new routines that will nurture our spiritual growth and lead us closer to Jesus. Any athlete can tell you that the success of the race depends on building good habits, and staying focused; since our race is one of faith, it should not surprise us that our own success will depend on training spiritual muscles and growing inner health as new creatures in Christ. Jesus went so far as to say that we are useless if we are not remaining connected to Him. He spoke a word-picture of a garden, saying to His followers “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We want to look beyond what is evident to our senses, and strengthen our spiritual perceptions– learn to depend on the loving presence of our Savior and grow up into the women He created us to be.
Fortunately, it is fairly obvious that these simple habits will need to be fueled by our relationship with Him. Even such basic practices as simplicity and silence and focus will require the strength of the Holy Spirit moving in us, because they go against the current of the large, loud, distracting world we live in. These disciplines will have to be repetitious actions that are driven by spiritual force into the physical world. Not because we are so capable and determined, but because we are so captivated by our Savior, so humbly broken by our need for Him. It will be an outpouring of spiritual longing like the Musician-King expressed: “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)
Perhaps it is that simple, that the more we want of Him, the less we will depend on what we can see and touch in this world, and our daily habits and choices will begin to reflect those values. There’s a reason Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) Filled not with a momentary comfort of the here-and-now, but with the eternal Bread of Life. Only those who are truly hungry are willing to do what it takes to seek Him. Let’s start with the simple spiritual disciplines that shape the soul.
May our hearts be hungry for God and His ways, and may we ever be filled with more of Him.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
“He is the one who can tell us the reason for our existence, our place in the scheme of things, our real identity….He will whisper it to us not in the mad rush and fever of our striving and our fierce determination to be someone, but rather when we are content to rest in Him, to put ourselves into His keeping, into His hands. Most delightfully of all, it is a secret He will tell us slowly and sweetly, when we are willing to spend time with Him: time with Him who is beyond all time.” (Emilie Griffin)