Eastern Orthodox Church: “Unhurried and Timeless” Worship Services

running_lateContinued from here.

Everything I write about the Eastern Orthodox Church in this blog series comes from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. I confess that I knew nothing at all about this segment of Christianity and am fascinated by what I am learning in this book.

The first chapter of this book talks about the worship services because the way the Eastern Orthodox congregants worship is of central importance to their faith, prioritized over both doctrine and discipline. As someone raised in the Protestant church – sampling many different denominations along the way – this is such a different perspective from what I have experienced. With each new denomination I sampled, one of my first questions was what distinguishes this denomination from the others – immersion for baptism? services on Saturdays? specific restrictions for partaking in the Lord’s supper? So, I found it fascinating that in the Eastern Orthodox church, what’s of primary importance is form of worship, not doctrinal differences.

I won’t go into the details of the specifics for worship services, but I would like to talk about the end result: an “unhurried and timeless quality” of a service, which sounds like a slice of eternity to me. One of the ways Dallas Willard challenged me in some of his books was by admonishing me to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from my life. As an American with a Type A personality, hurrying is as natural as breathing. However, there’s no hurry in eternity because we have forever — there’s no reason to rush. So, the thought of attending a service in which hurry is removed altogether sounds attractive to me.

One aspect of God that I find intriguing is that He exists outside of time. Because time is such an important factor in my life (particularly while I am juggling work, school, and family), I cannot wrap my mind around an existence outside of time. From what I have read in this book, it sounds like the Eastern Orthodox church has found a way to provide a sense of this timelessness in its worship services. I can see how this could result in experiencing a slice of heaven during a worship service.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running above the words, “Running late.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Fasting that Does Not Involve Food

shhContinued from here.

I was surprised to learn from Dallas Willard that fasting is not limited to food. An example he gave is fasting from words. Let’s say you struggle with “potty mouth” and that no matter how much willpower you use, you simply cannot help cussing people out when you become angry. Or let’s say you struggle with gossip. You have the best of intentions of controlling your tongue, but you simply cannot help yourself when the opportunity arises to pass along information that you know should be kept private. Willard’s advice is to fast from words!

The same principle of denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus applies to this form of fasting. Set aside a full day to spend in solitude, and do not permit yourself to speak. For one full day, tell your tongue that it is not in charge: tongue submits to spirit, and spirit submits to God. A day of fasting from words invites God to realign your tongue so that it learns it is the tail, not the head. After engaging in this spiritual discipline, you will find it easier to control your tongue because your spirit is directing the tongue, not the other way around.

Fasting can apply to other areas of your life as well, such as fasting from secular television programming or music. The idea is to temporarily deny yourself something that indulges your body/sinful nature so you can, instead, honor God. You can apply different forms of fasting to any area of your life in which you wrestle with self-control. Perhaps this is what Paul was talking about regarding married couples depriving one another of their bodies for a time by mutual consent. Note that this denying of oneself is not done in a vacuum – the behavior is replaced by prayer.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “Shhhhh.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Value of Fasting

Continued from here.

When I would read about fasting in the Bible, I saw it as people trying to communicate to God that they really, really, really wanted Him to intervene. They would pray, fast, and put on sackcloth and ashes. To me, this seemed like the child who says she will hold her breath until her face turns blue until the parent gives in. That’s not at all what fasting is about!

Dallas Willard is the one who taught me the value of fasting, such as in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Fasting is a tool we can use to get our spirit, soul, and body correctly aligned. God designed us so that the body obeys the soul/spirit, which obeys God. That’s not how humans naturally live since the Fall, though. Instead, we let our bodies drive the train. Our bodies desire to consume something, and we allow our bodies to drive our emotions. We believe our emotions over God and indulge our bodies, which leads to sin or separation from God.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that reverses this process and teaches the body that it is not in charge. When we fast, we tell our bodies that they are the tail, not the head. In other words, we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. The body learns that it is not in control – that it must submit to the soul/spirit, which is submitting to God. As we choose to deny our bodies and follow Christ, our emotions change allegiance, reflecting our soul/spirit’s alignment with God rather than our body’s whims.

Paul struggled mightily with the battle between his body/flesh and his spirit. His sinful nature would lead him to do things that his spirit did not want to do. That’s the same battle that rages inside of all of us, and it’s a battle over which part of ourselves is in charge: our bodies or our spirits? Fasting is a spiritual discipline that helps teach the body that it is no longer in charge.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

No Longer a Victim

heartsContinued from here.

I cannot remember who said this (probably Joyce Meyer or Beth Moore): we live what we believe, not what we know. I knew that I had on the Armor of God, but I believed I was a victim. Thus, I behaved as a victim rather than a warrior, metaphorically cowering in my church’s parking lot like a wounded child rather than standing up and fighting, using the Armor of God.

My problem was believing that God is distant, with the Holy Spirit being my “walkie talkie” lifeline to Him. I saw the world as an unsafe place, with God always with me in more of a long distance way … like a Skype relationship rather than a face-to-face one. Through His book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God, Williard has blown this lie to smithereens!

Willard points out that God is located everywhere, viewing the most beautiful places and hearing the most beautiful sounds of the world while also surrounding me. Because of this reality, I have complete access to unbounding love, joy, and peace at all times. This is the truth that Jesus knew, enabling Him to be joyful despite also being a man of suffering and pain.

To help me process this reality, I have been seeking to view the world through spiritual eyes, recognizing that no matter where my eyes look, the God who created the universe is there. Whether I look up to the cloud or stars, down into a valley, or as far as I can see over the ocean, He is there. This means there’s nowhere I can go without being surrounded by boundless love, joy, and peace. This makes this world a safe place, regardless of what my past experience has been.

This also means that the vast majority of this world is filled with God. There are only pockets of places that aren’t, which are inhabited by people who choose to reject God. They are the masters of their own space, and when they congregate, they create a bigger bubble of rebellion against God. However, compared to the enormity of the earth – the mountains, oceans, and everything in between, they are a small percentage of this world. Even when I am in their presence, the God who created the heavens and earth is both around me and in me, so I am never in an “unsafe” place. Where there is God, there is limitless love, joy, and peace for the asking.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace surrounded by hearts. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Living in a Safe World Because of the Presence of God

god_is_biggerContinued from here.

I have been sharing my journey of processing something I learned in Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God. Willard talks about the reality that God is located everywhere simultaneously, which has profound meaning when you truly consider the implications of this truth.

I ended my last blog entry by saying that the only part of this earth that isn’t filled with the presence of God is people – all those who remain separated from Him by their own choice. I said this has deep implications for someone like me, who was severely abused in childhood and grew up viewing this world as an unsafe place. Let me elaborate on what I mean by this.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was a man of suffering who was familiar with pain. I never think of Jesus in this way because he was so joyful. (See Luke 10:21 and Heb. 12:2.) How could Jesus be both a man of suffering & pain AND a man of joy?

Willard says that Jesus was joyful because he saw the world through spiritual eyes. He knew the world was a safe place because it was filled with God.

Being fearful of living in an unsafe world has been my state of being for my entire life. When the illusion of safety is stripped away from you as a young child through people doing things to your body and spirit that should never be done, you grow up believing that the world is an unsafe place. This shapes your personality, putting you always “on your guard” – always looking for ways to protect yourself through either fight or flight. In other words, you grow into an adult with a victim mentality.

But God does not want us living our lives through victim’s eyes. He has made us victorious through Jesus, and He wants us approaching life through the eyes of a victor, not a victim.

God gave me a powerful visual of this a few years ago. I was falling prey to my tendency toward viewing myself as a victim, and God gave me a picture of myself cowering like a small child in my church’s parking lot while wearing the Armor of God. I clearly had everything I needed to be victorious in a fight, but I was behaving like the helpless abused child I was rather than the Warrior of God that I am.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Photograph of a wooden plaque that says, “God is bigger.” Courtesy Grace Daniels.]

The Earth is Surrounded by God

lucerneContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared how Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God has got me thinking about the enormity of our God. While I knew that God is always with me, I had not pondered the significance of God always being with everyone, everywhere.

In my quiet time with God, who I know is with me in the room, I started thinking about where else God is at that very moment: watching the sun rise over a body of water somewhere in the world … watching the sun set over a different body of water somewhere in the world … watching the beautiful mountains over Lake Lucerne … watching the tropical fish swimming by the Great Barrier Reef …

It hit me that the whole earth really IS filled with the glory of God. I always thought of this concept as the earth reflecting His glory while He is located in a distance place (Heaven), with the Holy Spirit serving as my “walkie talkie” connection to this distant God. However, I’m awakening to the reality that the earth is filled with the presence of God! This has profound implications for His children.

I have been practicing “seeing” the world through my spiritual eyes, which means that I am “seeing” the presence of God in every nook and cranny around me. When I drive down the road, I am “driving through God,” who fills the earth. The leaves of the trees rustle through Him as the gentle breeze blows. The flowers offer their beautiful colors into the presence of the LORD Almighty who, in a very real sense, surrounds them.

In fact, the only part of this earth that isn’t filled with the presence of God is people – all those who remain separated from Him by their own choice. This has deep implications for someone like me, who was severely abused in childhood and grew up viewing this world as an unsafe place.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Photograph of Grace in front of the Swiss mountains over Lake Lucerne. Courtesy Grace Daniels.]

The Enormity of Our God

I am reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God, which is one of the most profound books I have ever read (after the Bible, of course). I am learning so much from Willard, and I will likely be blogging about various topics he raises as I process what he has to say. Right now, I am processing the enormity of God.

As I have shared before, one of the four fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that God is always with us. This is a truth I frequently remind myself of when I am struggling. As life is filled with struggles, it’s safe to say that this is a truth I meditate upon quite a bit. Through The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God, I am coming to understand and appreciate this truth in a much deeper way.

Willard walked me through understanding the enormity of this truth (and the enormity of our God) by asking me to think about the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I immediately thought about the mountains of Switzerland over Lake Lucerne. Willard pointed out that God always sees that sight … and the tropic fish swimming in the ocean … and the beaches of Hawaii (OK, I added the part about Hawaiian beaches, but you get the point).

He then said to think about the most beautiful sound you ever heard. I thought about a classical music concert I attended in Vienna. One song was so unbelievable beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes. It touched my soul in ways I cannot put into words. God hears that song all the time!

While I have reminded myself repeatedly that God is always with me, even when I cannot “feel” His presence, I had not pondered the reality that while He is with me, He is also in these other places, soaking in the beauty of His creation all over the world. This concept has profound implications that I will address in my next blog entry.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God. Courtesy Amazon.]