Memorization has been a central part of life with God for as long as the written scriptures has been available. But it is not rote memorization that matters; rather, knowing passages by heart allows us to meditate on God’s words and allows them to shape the way we view the world. We are constantly using words to interpret the world around us; having God’s word at the ready helps us to see things the way God does.
Throughout the ages, people have called on God for their own needs, but also for the need of others. We pray because we desire blessing for others that we have no power to give them. That blessing might be physical or material (food, shelter, healing, safety), or it might be spiritual (peace, open eyes to see and receive God’s love). This role of intercession (one person praying on behalf of another) has been so important in church history that, for centuries, a central part of church liturgies has been the “Prayers of the People”—Christians praying for their church, community, country, and world.
Examen, or a Daily Review, is a prayer practice of looking at each day intentionally. This practice was developed by Ignatius of Loyola as a way to help disciples develop the skill of discernment. I daily ask myself questions about where I felt drawn to God, and where I hid from God. In this practice, I retrain myself to evaluate my activities based on how well I love God and others, rather than other standards. This helps me be aware of God’s presence and opportunities to love
Confession is a part of community life that too often goes overlooked, because it is often associated with public shame. Yet there is little more restorative to the human soul than being known and accepted in our weakness. The word for confession used in the New Testament, homologeō, means “to say the same.” In confession we are saying the same thing God does—about our failures, yes, but also about ourselves. We acknowledge the error and brokeness of our ways, but we also confess that we are new in Christ, loved by God, and meant for abudant life. It is leaving off this second part of confession that makes it seem often dreary.
Confession goes hand in hand with repentance, a word used in the Gospels to mean “look again!” Repentance precipitates a change in behavior by giving us a glimpse of a truer, better reality into which we can choose to live. We say the same as God in confession; we envision God’s love enabling us to grow in repentance.
This practice is intended for use in a community marked by safety, trust and maturity. These matters are delicate and must be handled with the same kind of love with which God has loved us.
Prayer is not just something we do with our minds—it is a whole-person, embodied discipline. Sometimes we bow, close our eyes, kneel, or raise our hands. And sometimes we need to put our feet on the ground and move in order to express our desire for God. Throughout the ages, God’s people have gone on pilgrimage—to Jerusalem, to Santiago d’Compostela, to the Irish isles—wandering, on the move, in search of deeper intimacy with God, expressing transition, change, loss, hope, and uncertainty.
Not everyone can go on such a journey, and in the Middle Ages, Christians began to walk the labryinth as a pilgrimage in place. Unlike a maze, the labyrinth has one path in and out, weaving towards and away from the center unpredictably but singularly. This practice helps us focus our minds and desire on God, and go on a journey to meet God in the center of our being.
Looking for a labyrinth nearby you? Try the Labyrinth Locator.
This practice helps you grow in your trust and love for God, by giving you a way to fix attention on who God has been in your life. By purposefully writing a brief, powerful summary of God’s faithfulness from your past experience, you will find it easier to depend on God in present and future difficulties. You will be following in the footsteps of God’s people, who for centuries have written songs and poems to celebrate specific ways God showed power on their behalf.
Praying the promises is a practice of fighting temptation, despair, frustration and apathy by centering our attention on promises God has made in His word, and putting our hope in these promises rather than whatever we can come up by our own energy. We turn these promises into prayers, asking God to provide for what He has promised, through Jesus, so that we can abide with God
Generally, we associate fasting with abstaining from eating for a period. But a fast is simply taking a break or pause from something that we ordinarily do, in order to grow our sense of dependence on God and see things in a new light. This practice involves purposefully setting aside a period—usually a day—where we take a break from criticism. We don’t indulge in thinking or speaking negatively (even if we are right!). Instead, we open space to speak words that encourage, and think creatively about problems. One fruit of this practice is an increased ability to see other people (and oneself) with compassion
Attending to nature is a practice of looking, as with new eyes, at the wonderful things God has made all around us, and enjoying the glory He has revealed in physical things. It is also an attempt to remember that physical creation is intimately upheld by God. By seeing the world we come to understand God’s character and His faithfulness, His love and also His power
Generally we think that a life of discipline must mean drudgery, painful practices and boring, empty motions. But this is not so! Spiritual practices are a way of experiencing the truth of the Gospel—that God is good, forgiving, present, and has done everything needed to secure our joy in Him forever! An approach to spiritual practices that does not give birth to joy is empty and entirely unbiblical.
Celebration is a central practice of the Christian life because we have very, very much to rejoice in! God is constantly providing good things for us, both magnificent and simple. Relationships, sunrises, birdsongs, forgiveness, coffee, careers, friends—all come from the hand of God!
Celebration is a very serious practice. It is not a superficial time for having fun “just because.” It is the intentional pursuit of a deep recognition of God’s goodness, through meaningful, weighty expression of joy. That’s not easy! It takes thought, care, planning, time. But intentional celebration gives us a deep sense of God’s goodness.
The greatest gift of the Gospel is God Himself. Above forgiveness, eternal life, transformation of our hearts, the best joy is that we get God! He is always with us, and always delighted in us, because we are His children. But this deep intimacy for which our heart yearns—and which no person can satisfy—is hard to enter. We forget. We believe lies (about God, about ourselves). And so we walk as though we were not in the presence of our Beloved, even as He is closer than our breath.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles urge us to pray always. We generally assume that by this they mean that we should bring all our needs to God; and this is surely important. But through Church history, many have believed that God intends us to live continually in His presence, with unbroken communication. And this is not a burden, but a privilege. “There is no mode of life in the world more pleasing and more full of delight than continual conversation with God,” writes Brother Lawrence.
Breath prayer is a practice aimed at cultivating the habit of continually abiding in the presence of God. It is a laying hold of the Gospel—for only through Jesus can we have boldness to think God would be near our hearts, in every circumstance!
The Bible makes clear that God’s heart is with the outcast, the marginalized, the alien and stranger. He calls us to be with them as well, to make room in our lives for those who have no place to rest. This practice has been central to Christians throughout Church history because of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 25 that, when we feed the hungry and care for the needy, we are caring directly for Him. This practice, then, is a way of welcoming Jesus into our midst as we welcome those He loves.
God invites us into life with Him, always. But we tend to be distracted, anxiously preoccupied with jobs, family, money, possessions, dangers and hopes. In the rush of life, we forget the one thing that matters—Him! This practice is one way to start turning our eyes toward Him throughout our day. The goal is not to make rules that burden us, but instead to create triggers that remind us of what we really desire, so that the sight of beauty, pain, or another person becomes an instant reminder that God is with us.
The Bible is different from other books—its Author invites us, through its pages, into a personal, daily relationship with Him. The purpose of the Bible, ultimately, is not to give us facts, interesting stories or moral rules. Through every passage, God is inviting us to know Him the way we know a good friend, the way we know how apple pie tastes and the way we know what salty sea air smells like. He wants us to experience His presence as we read.
The practice of reading the Bible meditatively—searching to experience the God we are reading about—was the main way of reading the Bible for the first 1,500 years of the church. Rather than attempting to plow through large chunks of text (which is something that can only happen once people become literate and have the Word in their hands), Christians would listen to small portions of the Bible and hold onto a word, a phrase, a verse and mull over it throughout the week. The nugget of truth they found there would be, for them, an invitation into life with God each day.
- Opening to God, David Benner
- Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation, Richard J. Foster
- Sacred Reading, Michael Casey
- Too Deep for Words, Thelma Hall