16 March 2014: Spiritual Direction

16 March 2014
The Inward Journey
MORE ON PRAYER……

I’ve been sharing my thoughts on prayer as it relates to the Inward Journey for the last several posts. My heart & soul could go on and on about prayer. However there are more aspects of the inward Journey that will fuel and direct the Urban Outpost. Prayer will find its way throughout our time together. Prayer will always be the mainstay of the Urban Outpost. So we’re not saying, “Good-by” to prayer. We are taking it with us on this journey. Prayer is our ‘back-pack’. We simply cannot engage God, nor grow spiritually, nor ‘step on the heels of Jesus’, nor will we ever turn poverty into justice within the Urban Outpost without prayer.

Within the humanity of our being we have learned instinctively that we cannot face the journey alone. We are human. We have “tribal” in our “DNA”. On the one hand we very much need one another. On the other hand, WHOA!!! Do we have boundary issues!! These boundaries are fiercely defended with the most subtle of weapons. In our arsenal are weapons of congeniality, politeness, casual conversation, laughter, tears – when we deem them appropriate and effective. All of these are strong defense mechanisms to cover our true selves. There are very few to whom we grant entrance into the core of our being. Think of marriage. Generally one partner is the guardian of the relationship. He/she stands tall and straight, holds down the front lines of “visibility” so that no one else will look into the core of this marriage. What the public sees is all that it gets! The other partner may be the “prayer warrior”. He/she cries out to God when the Enemy approaches – yes, sometimes the other partner. We have “friends”, “Colleagues”, “BFF’S”. Yet for all this implied intimacy there are still few who are permitted into our souls. Even though we are “tribal”, we seem to not want to belong to the ‘herd’. Part of us, perhaps a major part of us is the ‘roaring Lion that seeks to devour that which is weak” (Eph. 6) The other part of us is “the lamb led to the slaughter”. What’s my point?

Any real, legitimate, and productive prayer life will have as companion on the journey — a mentor. All of us who are committed to the Inward Journey MUST have a companion, a spiritual director, or a mentor. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by “Doctor Bob” & Bill W. back in the early 1930’s around the idea of a “sponsor”. Whatever we call this companion is unimportant. Prayer has about its nature a life that is beyond our spiritual comprehension. We desperately need someone else to help us make sense of it all. We really do “see in a mirror dimly.” When we are in dialogue with our Eternal and Amazing God, we are never alone. We may or may not believe that. The Enemy would have us to believe that we are isolated from God, that He does not hear our prayers. However, all we need do is look beyond ourselves to see the “fruits of the Spirit” of those who engage the Inward Journey.. Prayer transforms us from a solitary life into a life in community. Somehow over the centuries we have forgotten the lessons and value of the Monastic life of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. If you look into the heart of those monastic orders, what is the common thread? That thread is a life devoted to prayer. Prayer leads to community. Community leads us to our neighbors who in turn show us “the least of these”.

A spiritual mentor or director must have permission to tell you the truth about yourself as the Holy Spirit directs them. They must have permission to look at your prayer life and suggest a path and direction of prayer, based on your own personal faith experiences and their wisdom and experience. They can direct your journey. They must have access to your heart, your soul, and your mind. I have witnessed the life and activity of spiritual directors in my own life. When I was a Senior in Seminary, my Dean dropped by our apartment. My wife and infant daughter were there. He sat in our living room and told me that he thought I’d make a better truck driver than a Pastor! He even suggested that I try becoming a hockey player in that I was a big fan of the Philadelphia Flyers. I was four months from graduation. I had given up a new home, a teaching career, my very self-soul to follow the Lord’s Call. My spiritual director drove from Lynchburg, VA, a journey of 350 miles, to be with us for four days. During that time, he prayed with us, encouraged our spirits, shared our need with his Missional community, and reaffirmed our call to serve. He knew and listened to our pain. He gave birth to my ministry as the Heart of Jesus led him.

I have followed the spiritual direction of one of my youth group kids. She’s all grown up now with her own family. It is easy for me to discern the spiritual gift of “mentoring” that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on her. From time to time on her Face Book page, she’ll quote a book, share a verse from Scripture, or provide a word of encouragement, such that a cascade of “comments” follows from her followers who offer up their thanksgiving to her for her encouragement. She has a vital and critically needed ministry. Because she has willingly exercised this gift, her followers sustain her in her own pilgrimage.

Sharing prayer TOGETHER builds community. It is the function of the Holy Spirit! “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”. Then how is it that our prayer time in Christian communities has taken on such a perfunctory, bland, and lifeless role. “Will you open us up in prayer?” someone asks! Prayer meetings and services have all but disappeared from the weekly schedule of most congregations’’ activities. I guess we believe, “Well I’m in Church! People must be praying” Or, “Well, Pastor prays and we can add our request to his list!” Or, “Isn’t the Liturgy mostly prayer?” —– and we all say together, in unison, “Lord Hear our Prayer”. Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with all that. However, I think Jesus wants and deserves a little more intimacy than that! I’ve been in “prayer services” where those who attend are invited to “stand and pray” .Even then, sometimes our prayers are acts of routine, language, and habit. Does God hear those prayers? Of course! Excuse me if I think He also shakes his almighty head — just a bit!

We can be Lyle Schaller’s “Change Agents”. First, we can go to our Church Councils, Boards, and leaders. We can ask that a prayer service be held weekly for those who wish. We can ask the chairpersons of those who lead our boards & committees if more time can be devoted to prayer for the specific ministries we engage. Secondly, have you hugged your spiritual mentor/director lately?? Does he or she even know that they have been an influence on your spiritual soul? Perhaps there has been a teacher, a friend, a Pastor, a colleague who has provided guidance, instruction, hope, and/or encouragement to you and you’ve just never taken the time to thank them. This is crucial to our building community, of staying focused on our mission, of growing into the light and hope of Jesus. Find a way to get this done and discover the blessing that it is to your heart & soul. Yes, we all receive and need God’s love. WE also need human love and appreciation from those who make the journey with us.

God loves you! May His blessings be present to your walk this day in such a way that you will know without doubt that He walked with you!! Try out the discipline of entrusting your spiritual journey to someone in whom you have recognized has crossed your path because God willed it!!

Blessings!
Dr. Bill

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