Happy Birthday To Me.
I was speaking to my friend Kay over the phone. She’s a recent widow. I asked her if she was alone and she replied very matter-of-factly, “I’m never alone.” She had been reading the Bible in the middle of the day. “God is always with me” can almost be a Christian cliché. We say it without the revelation of what it really means. For Kay, it is a reality that keeps her from not only feeling alone, it keeps her from BEING alone. It’s not a crutch. It’s her reality and it IS true for the Christian who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
For my birthday every year for the past five or six years, I spend the day with God. Does that sound odd? It really shouldn’t if we understand God’s Presence. I had my time of birthday parties with friends and family, which were wonderful. But, it seems reasonable to celebrate the day you were born with the Person who made you.
This is not an article about me being hyper-spiritual. Pleeeeeeease….
It’s an idea that you may want to consider as part of a spiritual discipline; one that has brought me some balance in my life.
It started several years ago when I went to the mountains with my friend and mentor, Hank Graeser. He would lead me in many different forms of spiritual retreat. It was once a year and normally for only a few days. No outside communication. Lots of rest. Bible study. Silence. Worship. Hikes and meditation on God in nature. He would teach me ways to study the Bible like Lectio Divina. We read Dallas Willard and talked about the ancients and some of their disciplines. It opened my eyes to the benefits of spiritual disciplines and their purpose in our Christian faith. Nothing crazy…I promise.
One year, Willard had recommended an experience in his book, “Renovation of the Heart” called Presenting Your Body to God. Basically, it’s rededication or recommitment of your SELF to God. Since that first year, I have done it every year in the same place; CRABTREE FALLS. It’s a beautiful spot near the Blue Ridge Parkway outside of Charlottesville, VA. You climb two miles to the top of the spillway and stand overlooking a majestic view of Virginia hardwoods nestled in the valley below. In May, the water is still gushing from spring rains, making the majestic sound of the thunderous waterfall below you. It reminds me of Psalm 93. Standing near the falling water is like nature’s air conditioner on a warm day. Perfect. Did I mention the rhododendron and the mountain laurel are in bloom? That’s where I go for this ‘sacred’ event.
This is where you come in. I have found this discipline so helpful that I wanted to share it with you for your consideration. I’ve taken some liberties with the original idea as it has evolved for me over the last many years. Here’s a working outline:
Find a spot. It needs to be quiet and a place you can focus. Of course, when you are hyper as I am, you make the best of it. I find mountains holy. I know that the reference is not the same (theologically) but I consider Psalm 121, which is…ironically, part of the Psalm of Ascents. The Psalms were spoken on the temple steps as people made their way into the courtyard. “I lift up my eyes to hills. From where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Make of heaven and earth.” The Psalm is a reference to the high places where the priests of Asherah would set up their ‘altars’ . They were idolatrous places and reminder to all that help didn’t come from idols. Still…..
You may consider the beach, a room in your home, your back yard, a prayer closet, etc. I will add that traveling to that spot makes the whole experience more intentional; an odyssey. Crabtree Falls is 2 ½ hours from my home. I love the drive to that place through the mountain ranges and high into the hills. It gives me time to prepare and I have to plan for the trip. It’s a commitment.
And God goes with me. There it is again. He always goes with me. But like my friend Kay said, I am never really alone and on these trips I’ve very aware and consciously engaged with the fact that He Is Present. I have a friend who talks about the man who taught him to pray. My friend said that the man sat him down and then placed a chair in front of him. The man said to pretend that God was in that chair and speak to him. That’s prayer. Oh…and take time to listen. It’s a conversation.
So I sing and we talk. Does that sound weird? It doesn’t if you understand Presence. By the way, the ultimate book on this subject is by Brother Lawrence, “Practicing the Presence”. He was a Carmelite monk that lived during the Reformation period who was well known for his unique and abiding relationship with God.
Once I am at the site and relaxed, I begin my annual ceremony with a prayer of dedication. “Lord, I am here to dedicate my whole self to you again. I am thankful for your faithfulness in my life, expressed through everything that I need. You have given me life and I want to use it to serve you. My body is your dwelling place. I consecrate this spot through your Holy Spirit and declare it sacred for the purpose of recommitting my body to you today.” How’s that for a start?
Then, I follow Willard’s circle of transformation from his book, “Transformation of the Heart.” The journey is ‘inside out”. By the way, this whole process only needs to be as long as you want it to be. I usually take about an hour for the actual ‘dedication’. It takes me the rest of the day to get there and back. So the route is:
Heart/Will: We start at the center of it all, the heart. All of Jesus’ teachings deal with the heart. He turned the religious world upside down by taking their laws and turning them into heart attitudes. Oddly enough, the heart is the only part of our being that is transformed by God directly. Jesus has done that work for us on the cross. No one comes to the Father except through the Son (Jesus) and that is the work of the Holy Spirit; Go Team Trinity. In other words, God does all of this when you say “Come, Lord Jesus”. And once the Holy Spirit has come into your heart, it is sealed. You can quench and grieve Him. But he’s not leaving. So, I use this place as a time of thanksgiving. I remind myself that He has captured Me and not the other way around. God was never lost.
Mind: This is the battleground. It is the first place of spiritual warfare. You really are what you think. In wars today, battles are being won and lost based on who controls the narrative. My son is in an officer in PSYOPS, Psychological Operations. The wars of today and the future are being fought on this front. The point is that spiritual wars are also won and lost here.
Romans 12: 2 says, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The transformation of the mind comes through the work of the Holy Spirit and the disciplines of knowing God’s Word: Scripture memory; Bible reading and study; meditation on God’s Word. You can’t recognize the lies unless you know the Truth. Despite all naysayers in the world, the Bible IS truth. It must be. It is the Word of God. Don’t overthink it. But until you believe that (BY FAITH), you’re lost. Don’t waste your time reading on.
And so, I ask God for the renewal of my mind away from worldly thinking. I ask for wisdom, starting with the fear of the Lord. I consider Philippians 4: 8-9: “Finally, whatever is true, noble, right, perfect, lovely, admirable, if anything is praiseworthy or excellent, THINK about these things.” The way I think is my world view. Many of these ‘thoughts’ are wrong, but they are automatic. Jesus said “REPENT”. What he meant was, “You’re THINKING about this wrong. Change the way you’re thinking.” There are thoughts we all have that are contrary to the Word of God. We are not even aware of some of these. They are as automatic as breathing. But rededicating yourself to God assures you that the Spirit will start to reveal things to you about the way you think. Get ready. You’ll be amazed.
Body: Okay. This is the big one and I think it’s the thing churches today miss the most. Discipleship is not something we do well anymore. It’s so much easier to present the Gospel and move on. Evangelist do a fine job and are very necessary. But Jesus spoke MUCH MORE about being His disciple. You see? There it is again. Evangelism without Discipleship is just a Gospel of Sin Management. And so, we must engage in the battle with the flesh.
Romans 7: 22, 23 says, “For in my inner being, I delight in God’s law. but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”
The flesh is strong and the strongholds of the enemy, rest in your ‘members’. Evil is very hard to sort out of your body. You are no longer a slave to sin as a child of God. However, the sin in your members (flesh) doesn’t just go away; not without a fight. These automatic responses originated as coping mechanisms to help you make sense of the pain and rejection you felt as a child. Some of the best material I’ve heard on this subject is a podcast called “The Place We Find Ourselves” with Adam Young Counseling. Episodes 42 and 43 are very insightful.
What you are thinking manifests as reactions in your body. Once you have done them long enough, they become reflexes. They are automatic. To dislodge them takes the work of the Holy Spirit AND a disciplinarian. God will not do this without you. Nothing changes when nothing changes.
I start with my head and I work my way down to my toes. I mention a list that is external limbs and internal organs. I ask for healing, protection, and renovation. I speak the blood of Jesus over my entire body. This past year, I have developed a problem with arthritis in my fingers. I spent an extra amount of time on my hands this year. I speak life with the authority I have living as royalty in the Kingdom of God. I speak against death and destruction and disease. I claim God’s promises for my body according to His Word . You get the picture. This, however, is my only itemized list. This is also a good spot to ‘cover’ your body with Armor of God from Ephesians 6.
Social Circles are the friends you’re keeping and the circles you run in. Being transformed into the image of God will/should eventually shape the friends you keep. (Proverbs 12:26) I normally do not spend a lot of time here other than to ask God to shape relationships that matter for the kingdom of God and eternity. The idea of ‘soul’ according to Willard is an all-encompassing term for being.
The people of Israel were required to make three pilgrimages to Jerusalem a year as part of their spiritual life. I consider this exercise as one of those journeys for me in the present age. It’s a centering trip; a day of thanksgiving, reflection, and rededication. Since it’s the start of a new ‘year’ of sorts, I consider it an offering of ‘first fruits’, like the Feast of First Fruits in the Bible and I can assure you God will bless it throughout the year. I know He has in my life.