10 Spiritual Disciplines for Living Well

Working in inner city and urban parishes tends to demand a simplified approach to spiritual life, hence ‘The Big Four of Discipleship’ or ‘The 4 Ws’\r\n\r\nBut sometimes more nuance is required, so this morning I jotted down these 10 disciplines I’m trying to build into my life. The are – in no particular order -\r\n

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  1. reading scripture
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  3. prayer
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  5. experiencing solitutude
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  7. reading books
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  9. observing a sabbath rest
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  11. worship – by which I mean songs and hymns
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  13. fitness
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  15. memorising scriptures
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  17. helping others
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  19. giving to others.
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\r\nIt’s a beautiful Saturday. I wonder how many of these can be achieved wandering around the city?

Acts 23 – lessons in spiritual guidance

The apostle Paul has a sense of God’s guidance in Acts 23:11, where it records God as saying “Now you’re going to be my witness in Rome”.\r\n\r\nFrom then on Paul makes no plans of his own, and the details of various plots work together to bring Paul to Rome.\r\n\r\nWithout going into the whole story (it’s definitely worth reading in Acts) the numbers of people involved are huge.\r\n

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  • Chief Priests, High Priests, Pharisees, Sadducees – the religious establishment.
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  • The Roman Captain, 2 centurions, 200 soldiers, 75 cavalry officers, 200 light infantry – the political establishment.
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  • 40 murderers on a pact to starve unless the kill Paul.
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  • And Paul’s nephew, who warns the Roman Captain of the guard of the plot to kill Paul.
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\r\nLet’s say around 600 people, working over 24-48 hours, which resulted in Paul being put under house arrest in Rome.\r\n\r\nSometimes Paul ‘decided to move on’ (Acts 19:21), then other times he acted on dreams, or visions, or the Spirit ‘stopped’ him. And then there were 600 unconnected people working together.\r\n\r\nIt seems that God is flexible on how he works out his purposes – with us, in us,through us, and through others.

… as Apples are to Apple Pie

There’s a story, probably apocryphal, about a professor at an Ivy League university – Harvard? Yale? – who asks some of the brightest and best students on the planet “What’s in an apple pie?”\r\n\r\nThe students didn’t want to be thought dumb so they shouted out:\r\n\r\n“Cinnamon” … “Raisins” … “Nutmeg” … “Sugar” … “Butter” (clever one that, because you can only infer there’s butter because there’s pastry: you can’t see the butter: very clever).\r\n\r\nNo one shouted out …\r\n\r\n… “Apples”. \r\n\r\nThat story came to mind when I thought back over a conversation held in a hospital room last week with the pastor of a large growing church. Now in his 80th year and still ministering every week, this pastor was musing about what the future held, about perhaps taking over a dysfunctional church and turning it around. A new challenge.\r\n\r\nThere was definitely a glint in the eye. At his age (79), he said, with somewhat lower energy levels, if he was to leave his church now he reckoned he could turn a problem church around in two years.\r\n\r\nMaybe three.\r\n\r\n”How?” I asked, “What would you do?”\r\n\r\n”Preach” he said.\r\n\r\nOK, he’s possibly in the top five preachers I’ve ever heard … in the world, that is. But even so!\r\n\r\nBut then I thought that I don’t know of any growing, confident, theologically literate church where there isn’t … great preaching.\r\n\r\nSo to fill in the blanks in life’s comprehension test, what this pastor was saying was this:\r\n

Preaching is to Church as Apples are to Apple Pie

\r\nI don’t think that’s the whole story, but it’s definitely worth talking about.

BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals

It’s an expression used in business and particularly by entrepreneurs:\r\n

Big Hairy Audacious Goals.  

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To set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal you take a Realistic Opportunity and multiply it by a number. For example, “Let’s sell ten holidays by the end of the month, that is do-able” becomes, “if ten holidays are do-able, let’s try and sell fifty. In a fortnight”

\r\nIronically, if a BHAG is not rooted in reality no one believes it and no-one stops to give it serious thought. Being rooted in reality makes people pause and think. Mmm … surely not? And then, why not … that might just be possible.  After all, it’s a GOAL not a Big Idea. Unlike a Big Idea, a Goal is measurable and achievable.\r\n\r\nHere’s an example of the difference between a Big Idea, a Realistic Opportunity and a BHAG:\r\n\r\nBig Idea: “let’s invite everyone in our parish of 30,000 to the Carol Service”\r\n\r\nRealistic Opportunity: “why doesn’t everyone in the church invite their neighbours to the carol service”\r\n\r\nBHAG: “let’s invite 1,000 specific people to the carol service(s) and give them mulled wine, mince pies and a Christmas present beforehand.”\r\n\r\nMany churches will dream of the Big Idea and then fumble the Realistic Opportunity. But the Big Hairy Audacious Goal of inviting 1,000 specific people to church for a social Christmas is much more interesting. Leaving aside how you manage the space and enable the volunteers, where do you find 1,000 specific people in a parish? Here’s a start:\r\n

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  • Invite the Head teachers at every local school and their spouse or partner. And their teachers.
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  • Invite Managers of the local care homes and their staff.
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  • Invite the local MP and local counsellors with their partners.
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\r\nLet’s say that’s about 50 people. Then:\r\n

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  • Create a joint choir from local school children to do the service. Invite their parents and families.
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\r\nLet’s say that’s another 200 people.\r\n

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  • And each of the 50 church members hands out an invite to 10 people, from work, family, shops, neighbourhood.
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\r\nThat’s another 500.\r\n\r\nWe’re up to 750 specific invites. In 2 minutes. Plus the 50 church members.\r\n\r\nMmm … maybe inviting 1,000 people to the pre-carol service  party wasn’t a Big Hairy Audacious Goal after all?\r\n\r\nSo, you pick one…\r\n\r\nPS\r\n\r\n… this would be a challenge for a church of fifty people but with planning and prayer it’s certainly possible. If your church is 150 people strong, imagine what Big Hairy Audacious Goals could be achieved …\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nWritten in Zazu’s Kitchen, Southville