Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Spiritual disciplines can be valuable sheepdogs effectively nipping at the feet of our straying souls. At times, special periods of devotional activity—prayer, fasting, silence, solitude, confession, meditation, spiritual reading, self-denying service—may assist us in staying on the narrow path of spiritual health. Yet, it’s always better to have the Shepherd in sight, or at least in hearing distance, so we can hear His call, “Follow Me.” He is not only the true Lord of our Christian life but its primary Spiritual Director.

Christ’s presence in practicing these disciplines is essential, if they’re to remain a source of nurturing our spirituality. In fact, our whole life in Christ is best understood and lived in the same way Jesus Himself lived His earthly life: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” (John 14:10).

For me, learning to acknowledge this pattern—myself in “in Christ” and “Christ in me”—is itself a new spiritual discipline, and not one easily mastered. Yet, as I described in a previous blog article, “Union Life’s Incarnational Spirituality,” this isn’t only the real secret of Christian living but the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation. God’s Son became human to purchase and wed a human Bride. He was after an eternally intimate union with us, but this intimacy already began the moment we were “born again” into His Body, the Church.

How does this fact of personal union with Christ relate to this article’s title? If Christ is present in us, living through us, even living as us, which is the bold proclamation of Gal 2:20, we ought to acknowledge this spiritual reality practically, especially in our conscious prayer life. Therefore, we need to explore the direction of our straying minds, which are in union with “the mind of Christ,” (1 Cor 2:16). Straying thoughts that seem to interrupt our intercessions and supplications may actually be a divine source of refocusing our attention. God has certain concerns related specifically to our unique individuality. There isn’t an aspect of our lives in which He is not interested and involved.

We know that God uses lists. He listed many laws in the Old Testament for His people to follow. But when Jesus reduced the Old Testament Law into two commandments—loving God and loving our neighbor (Mat 22:37-40)—He was expressing the ever-expanding motive within His very nature. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternally a Triune Family of Love (1 John 4:8). That divine love cannot be packaged in a list of rules, nor can its reach be limited to our usually useful prayer lists.

So, how does this play out in experience? We try to make sure we get through our mental or written prayer list, but God already heard these requests when we listed them. Now we’re suddenly thinking about the gas dryer that needs to be replaced, or the fence that needs to be repaired, or the bill that needs to be paid, or the bad news in this morning’s paper or news report. Thoughts may be scurrying around all over the place. Why do we let them distract us, when they can be immediately, one-by-one, invited into our prayers? God may be so pleased that we’re finally paying attention to His direction for our prayers that He extends His guidance to deeper areas in our hearts, as long as we keep listening.

Speaking of deeper issues... how do we handle thoughts easily recognized as personal temptations? We may be thinking of an injustice recently done to us, or of a sale we missed or the latest gadget we wish we owned, or of a nagging worry about a situation we have no control over. What if even darker possibilities enter our minds? What do we do?

I believe this is where the discipline of acknowledging our union with Christ’s mind is an essential practice in prayer. In the presence of especially troublesome thoughts, Jesus is still Lord. He knows exactly where these straying thoughts come from. He may be leading us to include their source in our hearts as a prayer target. He may want us to intercede in special ways for the individuals involved in or connected to these thoughts. After these seemingly distractive thoughts are thoroughly bathed in prayer, He may say, “Now, go back to your prayer list. I'm also interested in those things, even more than you are.”