Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day by Day (by Greg York)

Day by Day

The prayer attributed to Richard of Chichester has been used and adapted for almost eight centuries, because the desire it expresses is timeless:

O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know You more clearly,
Love You more dearly,
Follow You more nearly,
Day by day.

How can I partner with God so that I know him, love him, follow him “day by day”? That’s a question that has occupied me for pretty much all of my adult life.

Everyone is wired differently in how we best “fund” our spiritual lives. In this post, I just want to share two of the practices that work for me in funding my (very imperfect) desire to know, love, and follow God “day by day.” These may not even be the most important of the spiritual disciplines I try to practice (maybe only God knows that), but the two below are my takes on the “right answers” we learn to give early on in church when asked what it takes to grow your faith. I do think the “right answers” in this case are in fact good answers—it’s putting content on that outline, though, that makes the difference for growth. (Anyway, perhaps in later posts I can unpack some more of the practices I find helpful.)

The first is a regular regimen of Bible reading (I know; there should be a “duh” immediately after that statement). There are so many approaches to reading the text devotionally.  I tend to mix two approaches.

Reading whole books of the Bible, so that I understand their message as a whole, resisting the urge to see the Bible as a collection of loosely related verses, has been very helpful. (If you only read a line here or there in an email, do you really understand the message or know the heart of the one who sent it?) Now, as one who is committed to following in Jesus’ steps, while I attempt to read (over time) through every book of the Bible, I try to “weight” my reading of whole books so that about every other one is one of the gospels.

The other Bible reading approach I use is to follow the Lectionary “Daily Office.” That’s probably something many in our tradition have not heard about (although it is not terribly different from one of the Bibles that divide the whole up into 365 doable readings; for some reason, those have just never “worked” for me—if it works for you, just file it under other ways in which Greg is weird and keep reading). The “Daily Office” includes multiple readings from the Psalms (after all, it’s the prayer book of the Bible), from an Old Testament book, from the Gospels, and from another New Testament book. In other words, you’re getting a pretty good sampling from around the whole Bible, and if you follow the “Office” regularly, you’re reading through (praying through, if you’d like) the whole book of Psalms each month. (I access the “Daily Office” online: , by the way.) 

I’m not slavish about either reading approach. So, sometimes if I’m reading through a book and it’s really catching my attention and driving me deeper, I’ll not worry about the “Daily Office” during that time. Sometimes, I’ll just do the “Daily Office” readings for weeks. One of the things I like (well, no, really, I should say, “One of the things I need”) about doing the “Daily Office” readings is that there’s a certain discipline, a certain submission, to reading what someone else has selected. When I self-select, I may end up just going back to the same set of texts over and over. That’s not bad, but I’d like to hear as much of what God has to say as I can.

The second practice is adding what some call centering prayer to my “diet” of prayer. Certainly, I have things to say to God, things to ask of him, but I find making it a regular practice to just be quiet and still in the presence of God is also vital to my spiritual health. Not just to be quiet, but as a way of saying, by being physically still in body and mind, that I submit to God’s agenda, not mine. Our minds are always flying about in so many directions. This is a way I may consciously show that my thoughts, my mental plans, my desires—all the things that fill my head—are not what I really want to drive my life.

Is this easy? No, because the chatter in my head is constant and so difficult to ratchet down. But it is exactly that chatter that crowds out my awareness that I live each moment in the presence of God. So, it may not be very easy, but it is very important.

Is it difficult to find time and a quiet place? Absolutely (I figure moms with small children have been laughing hysterically through the last couple of paragraphs…). But I have discovered that if I can just find even a few moments to just be still as an act of submission to God, to calm down the flow of “Greg thoughts” just enough to be aware of God’s presence, it is more than worth the effort to find that time.

A critical part of “Growing Our Hearts toward God,” learning to love God, being trained by Jesus, and allowing the Spirit to lead us, is having something to draw on. We can’t run, let alone mount up on wings like eagles, if our spiritual account is overdrawn. Two of the ways I’ve found to fund my account are reading the Bible holistically and praying without words.

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