Monday, December 31, 2012

Devotional Classics, you've forever impacted my life.

It's hard to believe nigh on four years ago I started this journey into the depths of riches and community found at  What a life-changing experience this has been and continues to be as I complete the final assignment for my Certificate in Worship Leadership Studies.  Thanks, Dan, for dreaming and birthing such an incredible learning community.  I am forever grateful.

Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups, the revised and expanded edition edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, is a compilation of devotional readings selected from the writings of the saints across the ages.  These writings "aim at the transformation of the human personality.  They seek to touch the heart, to address the will, to mold the mind.  They call for radical character formation.  They instill holy habits" [1].

These classic writings are divided into seven sections. Each section lays out a feast of the richest of foods for the soul, gleaned from men and women whose writings give us "perspective and balance" [2] and reveal the need and desire to be formed in our own lives by the love and goodness of God as manifested through the lives of the authors.  

In Preparing for the Spiritual Life, I am challenged to create space for intentional spiritual formation in my life.  While costly, it is far more prudent than the alternative. C.S. Lewis wakens me to awareness that demands are always being made on me and I must choose from where those demands will be met.  He teaches me how to come out of the wind, so to speak, and into the peace where I can be directed by the Voice of the One.  This quote from Dallas Willard I’ve written on a note card I carry with me to commit to memory:
Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10) [3].

The Prayer-Filled Life uncovers a gold-mine of thoughts on how to live a life of prayer.  I struggle to find moments of solitude and silence, but when I read Henri J. M. Nouwen’s piece on “Bringing Solitude into Our Lives,” I found a nugget of wisdom that had yet to occur to me: “But we do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to him.  We may have to write it in black and white in our daily calendar so that nobody else can take away this period of time [emphasis mine]” [4].  I realized that whatever appointment I wrote in my calendar I tended to keep, so I tried it out, penciling in at 6:00 a.m.  “Solitude and Silence,” and wouldn’t you know, I kept that appointment fairly consistently from then on!  And while I’m no longer regularly waking at 6:00 a.m. (different season requiring different schedule), the discipline wore a groove in me to rise, light a candle, and spend time in prayer and meditation as a way to center my day on the One from whom all life flows.

The Virtuous Life encourages me to develop holy habits that keep me in a lifestyle of dying to self and becoming increasingly alive in Christ.  These habits include obedience, perseverance in the race, goodness, love and know God, denial of self, sobriety, resisting and learning from temptation, devotion to God, temperance, communion with the Trinity, etc.  Richard Rolle’s “The Spiritual Flame” inspired the poem here, and I am quickened to develop these holy habits by this quote from Thomas a Kempis: “The beginning of all evil temptations is an unstable mind and a small trust in God” [5].

The Spirit-Empowered Life creates desire to connect more deeply with the Spirit of God who is alive and active in me so that, in the words of Thomas Kelly, I might conduct my “inward life so that [I am] perpetually bowed in worship while [I am] also very busy in the world of daily affairs” [6].  This discipline calls me to an inward life that is in perpetual peace being centered on the Spirit rather than on the tumult without. “For God himself works in our souls, in their deepest depths, taking increasing control as we are progressively willing to be prepared for his wonder” [7].

The Compassionate Life calls me to commit to a life of being the hands and feet of Jesus to those around me, not by imposing my thoughts and beliefs on others; rather, I do it through understanding and compassion and doing the good I can.  John Woolman puts it like this: “…where people are sincerely devoted to follow Christ and dwell under the influence of his Holy Spirit, their stability and firmness through a divine blessing is at times like dew on the tender plants around them, and the weightiness of their spirits secretly works on the minds of others [8]. Hannah Whithall Smith cautions against the constant burden of a life of compassion when it is lived out of obligation rather than love.  The solution to this is the complete giving over of self to Him in complete trust so that He can “work in you to will as to bring your whole wishes and affections into conformity with His own sweet, and lovable, and most lovely will” [9].

In The Word-Centered Life emphasis is placed on the Scriptures and the sharing of the Gospel. I love how E. Stanley Jones brings it down to three habits that Jesus demonstrated: read the Word, pray, and teach.  He also encourages me to “Enlarge the area of [my] conversion, taking in fresh territory every day” [10], challenging me to make sure I am intentional about adding to my basic faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.  Madame Guyon takes the ordinary reading of the Bible and teaches me to slow down and take each word one-by-one and allow the truth and the meaning to sink into the very fibers of my being.

The authors of the Sacramental Life section remind me that all of life is sacred; there is no such division of secular life.  Chesterton introduces me to the joy found in monotony.  Repetition is worked into the fabric of creation by the Creator Himself who delights in the “do it again” of the sun rising and setting bringing purpose to the everyday tasks and guards against them becoming mundane. Staying mindful of the One for whom these tasks are being done keeps me in an attitude of worship instead of drudgery (thanks, Brother Lawrence!). I love how Annie Dillard describes her experience of truly seeing past the “mind’s muddy river, this ceaseless flow of trivia and trash” [11] to the beauty of the Presence:

So I blurred my eyes and gazed towards the brim of my hat and saw a new world.  I saw the pale white circles roll up, roll up, like the world’s turning, mute and perfect, and I saw the linear flashes, gleaming silver, like stars being born at random down a rolling scroll of time.  Something broke and something opened.  I filled up like a new wineskin.  I breathed an air like light;  I saw a light like water.  I was the lip of a fountain the creek filled forever; I was ether, the leaf in the zephyr; I was flesh-flake, feather, bone [12].

Oh the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God these wonderful saints of God reflect!  I am richer.  I am wiser.  I am more in love with the God of the universe having read the writings of these fellow travelers into the heart of God.  And I have only merely scratched, no brushed, the surface of all that is contained within this book.  So while the assignment is to write a summary of Devotional Classics (a task I find impossible to do), it is more like a small drop of the nectar that Richard Foster and James Smith saw fit to include within.

I am so thankful to have read and re-read and will read again.

1 Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups, revised and expanded, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 2005), 1
2 ibid, 1
3 ibid, 16
4 ibid, 82
5 ibid, 151
6 ibid, 174
7 ibid, 177
8 ibid, 231
9 ibid, 240
10 ibid, 285
11 ibid, 347
12 ibid, 346

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