Tag Archives: meditation

Creating a Spiritual Rule of Life


I’m a creature of habit.  I love my routine.  If I had been born in a different time and place I would have been a monk, or a farmer, or maybe a passenger train conductor – “All Aboard!”

So, when I learned about the spiritual practice of a “Rule of Life” I was immediately intrigued.

According to the CS Lewis Institute

“A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. A Rule establishes a rhythm for life in which is helpful for being formed by the Spirit, a rhythm that reflects a love for God and respect for how he has made us. The disciplines which we build into our rhythm of life help us to shed the “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed. Spiritual disciplines are means of grace by which God can nourish us. Ultimately a Rule should help you to love God more, so if it becomes a legalistic way of earning points with God or impressing others, it should be scrapped.”

The ancient monks understood the value of creating a Rule of Life.  They lived their lives to a rigid schedule of prayer, worship and work.  It was these monks who erected the first clock towers throughout Europe, many of which are still standing today, as a way to stick to their Rule of Life.

A Rule of Life is not just about prayer.  It is a whole life spiritual experience.  Buddhist and other forms of mysticism refer to “mindfulness” as a form of whole life meditation that encourages the practitioner to focus completely on the things they are doing while they are doing them and to block out extraneous thoughts and “noise”.  In this way it is said that a master of mindfulness is able to be fully present and free of distractions at all times.

While not quite as demanding as mindfulness, a spiritual rule of life helps to focus the mind at certain times of the day and creates space for a fuller experience of all aspects of life.

Over the last few months I have concentrated my personal devotional time on developing a rule of life for myself.  This rule has helped me to live a bit like a monk in my daily routine and deepened my relationship with God.

At the present time my rule consists of four specific activities that I do on a daily basis.  Like the old adage about placing large rocks, small stones and sand in a jar, these four activities are my largest rocks, if I do them consistently my life is in balance and I am able to be more focused and productive in everything else that I do.

Here is my personal Rule of Life

1 – Practice Sabbath

Every Friday night by 7:30, sometimes earlier, my computer, phone, email and social media are turned completely off.  They remain off for at least 24 hours.

During that 24 hour period I do nothing that is tied to my work.  I do not communicate with clients, I do not write articles or parts of my books, I do not develop financial plans and I do not study for any of the continuing educations courses that I need to complete for my licenses and certifications.  Instead I read for pleasure, garden, watch movies and spend time with my family and friends.  God created the sabbath after he had completed all of his work as the first “rock” in Adam’s rule of life and if it was good enough for Adam, it’s good enough for me.

2 – Read a Psalm

I begin each day at 7:00 am in quite contemplation by reading a Psalm.

The book of Psalms is 150 chapters long.  Each one except Psalm 119, can be read in less than 5 minutes.  Reading a Psalm a day you can get through the entire book twice in one year, even if you break 119 up over a few days.  Many of the Psalms follow a similar pattern, they begin with lament, move through a period of acknowledging God’s sovereignty and end in praise.  This pattern helps me to see that God is in control and reminds me that doubt and despair are natural emotions that God understands.

3 – Pray the Lord’s Prayer

After I have read a Psalm I immediately move into a structured walk through of the Lord’s Prayer.  My daily prayer is not a rote recitation of Matthew 6:9-13 or any other memorized version of a prayer.  Rather, I use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for the things I say to God and for the way I listen for his response.

The way I see it there are eight phases to praying this way.  They are; Preparation, Community, Praise, Partnership, Personal Needs, Confession, Temptation and Worship.  A full explanation of this framework and how it forms my rule of life is beyond the scope of this post.  It is the subject of my current book project, tentatively titled “Prayer School” excerpts of which I have been publishing in this space off and on for the last few months, if you’re interested scroll back through the feed and look for titles related to Prayer School.

4 – Meditate on the Examen at points through the day and especially at the end of each day 

The Examen is a rule of life in and of itself that was first practiced by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the early 16th century.  Saint Ignatius is most famous as the founder of the Jesuit Order and the Examen is still practiced by Jesuits to this day.  The Jesuits are encouraged to pause at regular intervals throughout the day and contemplate one or more questions related to their relationship with God.

Once again, this meditation is not meant to be a recitation of the specific questions but rather a framework for the thoughts I try to conjure up as I take a moment or drift off to sleep at night.

Traditionally the Examen consists of three questions.

“Where am I experiencing feelings of joy and peace?”

“Where am I connected with God?”

“Where am I experiencing sadness, apathy and a sense of disconnection from God?”

I am convinced that God speaks to me in my dreams.  Although I reserve the right to think on these things when ever the spirit moves, by making a conscious effort to contemplate the Examen as I drift off to sleep God has answered me in some powerful ways through my dreams.  I wake up each morning refreshed and ready to start again.

 

So that’s my rule of life.  What’s yours?  Do you have a “rule” that you follow that helps you get closer to God?  I’d love to hear about it, tell me your rule of life in the comments below…

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Preparing Our Hearts for Prayer


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School"  For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.

Prayer School – Part One

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; [Psalm 46:10a]

God can do anything and the way in which he speaks to us, and hears us, is no exception.  But I have found, in my years of faithfully listening and speaking to God is that he operates best in the quiet and stillness of our minds.  Therefore, it is fitting that at the beginning of our discussion of prayer we begin by calming and quieting our minds.

All throughout scripture we see examples of people encountering God when they are alone with only their thoughts.  Moses was alone on the mountain when he encountered God in a burning bush.  Elijah heard the “still small voice” of God after a loud and violent storm had passed by.  David wrote most of his Psalms while alone and running from his enemies.  And who could forget the example of Jesus himself both at the beginning of his ministry, spending forty days alone in the wilderness, and on the night that he was arrested walking alone through the garden of gethsemane.

Prayer happens best when we are quiet and alone. Jesus even went so far as to command that we pray privately.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]

In recent years spiritual teachers, self-help gurus and psychologists have popularized the concept of “mindfulness”.  According to Wikipedia, mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment and can be honed through a period of meditation.  “Living in the moment” is then the process of taking that focused period of mediation and expanding it into the way we live our daily lives.

Mindfulness has been proven to be an effective form of therapy for those recovering from addictions, anxiety and trauma.  In my own experience, mindfulness has been very helpful as a form of therapy in dealing with my own life history but is not prayer.

Preparing our hearts for prayer is a bit like mindfulness meditation but instead of focusing our minds on the present moment we focus our minds on God.  As Paul wrote to the church in Colosse;

 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. [Colossians 3:2]

So, how do we prepare our hearts for prayer?

I like to start with a bible verse in mind that helps me to focus on God.  A couple of my favorites have already been mentioned, Psalm 46:10, Colossians 3:2 but here are a few others that work just as well and you may have others that work for you. Exodus 20:2-3, Isaiah 41:13, Isaiah 43:3, Psalm 23:1, Matthew 16:15-16.

It’s helpful if the verse can be broken into a couple of phrases.  Speak, or think, the first phrase as you inhale and the second phrase as you exhale.  Repeat this process as many times as it takes to calm your mind and focus on God.  For me it seems that the optimal number is four but if I am feeling extra stress or am otherwise  distracted it can take a bit longer.

Once you have calmed your mind and focused your attention on God you’re ready to pray and open I dialogue with him.  Speak to him as you would a wise friend and listening to what he says.

 

 

Cultivating Conscious Contact


Three Steps to Discerning the Will of God

When I first start working with clients, either one on one or in a group setting, one of the first questions I receive is something along the lines of, “How, exactly, does one discern the will of God?”

This is an understandable question given that my mission is to “teach people to live life to the fullest in complete submission to the will of God”.

I usually answer by asking how they would go about figuring out what anyone wants?  Apart from the obvious, simply asking, you would begin by cultivating a relationship with them.  You would spend time with them and get to know them.  Over time you would gradually begin to understand them on a level that would give you a reasonably accurate sense of the things they like.  It’s no different with God.

The mindfulness movement has been championing what some meditation experts have coined “cultivating conscious contact with the divine.”  While that’s not exactly the way I would describe it, I do believe that one of the best ways to begin a relationship with God is through meditation.

When you first begin to meditate for the purposes of developing a relationship with God there are three things you need to do.

1 – Become Still

God tends to speak in a gentle whisper.

In 1 Kings 19, God appears to the prophet Elijah.  Elijah is meditating in a cave in the mountains.  First a great and powerful wind rips through the rocks.  Then an earthquake shakes the mountain.  After that a fire starts among some brush and burns out of control.  Finally, after all that noise and violence had passed Elijah heard God speaking softly to him from outside the cave.

Elijah never would have heard God had he gone out and fought back against the natural world’s violence.  He remained quite and when things calmed down he could finally hear God.  No matter what is happening around us, the way to hear God is to remain still and allow the violence of the world to wash over us and past us.  Some meditation experts say we must become like water to the world.  Then and only then will we hear God’s gentle whisper.

After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. [1 Kings 19:12,13]

 

2 – Trust Your Instincts

In Psalm 46 God commands us to be still and know that he is God.

That kind of knowledge is instinctual and is achieved by trusting that God is who he says he is.  Again, Elijah never would have heard God if he hadn’t known what to listen for.  You cannot establish a relationship if you are constantly doubting what you are hearing.  It starts by simply acknowledging that God is God.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” [Psalm 46:10]

 

3 – Double Check

Once you start to hear God speak it’s vitally important that you test what he is saying against what he has said to others.  God will never go against his nature and nor will he ever encourage anyone to do so.

Read the scriptures, get to know the God of Moses, Elijah and Jesus.  God’s essence is love.  And love is expressed in a community of like minded believers.  Begin to tell others what God is saying to you and listen for their feedback, if you have misunderstood him he will speak to you again directly and through the words of a trusted friend.

In 1 John 4 we learn that God draws us into community and relationship both with himself and others for the express purpose of speaking to us all.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. [1 John 4:12]

It is by following these three steps for cultivating a relationship with God, that you can begin to learn and understand his will in every situation.

Has God ever spoken to you?  What were you doing when you heard his voice?  How did you know it was Him?  Tell me about it in the comments below…

 

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

 

Three Dimensional Ministry


Recently, while meditating on Matthew 9:35-38 something quite unexpectedly jumped off the page.

I spent a week at the beginning of this month sitting with these 4 verses at first because I wanted to get inspired and hear what God has to say about evangelism, after all the workers are few as the passage says and we must ask the Lord to send us out.

Here’s the passage as it reads in the NIV:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Matthew 9:35-38]

Did you see what I saw?

I’ll narrow it down.  It’s right at the beginning in verse 35.

Jesus’ ministry was three dimensional. He went through the land teaching, proclaiming and healing.  Some translations render proclaiming as preaching, but the general meaning remains the same.  Throughout seven days of deep meditation on this passage I came to realize that effective evangelism should always contain these three elements.

Teaching

A little over two years ago I wrote a post that that broke down my mission as a writer which said that I am a disciple of Christ – always learning, always growing and always teaching.  While Jesus didn’t need to learn or grow, at least not by the time he started his ministry he was a teacher first and foremost.  He taught what it truly meant to not just follow but to fulfill the law and how to live a just and moral life.

Proclaiming (Preaching)

While teaching digs in to meaning and application and invites debate to further understanding, proclamation does not.  Proclamation is a take it or leave it a statement of fact.  Where proclamation says, “it’s raining”, teaching says rain is necessary for the healthy development of crops and invites debate regarding how much rain is too little or too much for optimal growth.  When Jesus preached he left no room for debate.  That offended many, especially when his preaching flew in the face of tradition and challenged the norms of society.

Just two chapters before this we learn that both his teaching and preaching were regarded by the people as somewhat of a curiosity because he spoke as “one who had authority”.  In other words, he knew what he was talking about.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. [Matthew 7:27,28]

Healing

Teaching and preaching are worthless unless they are accompanied by action.   People who are hungry, people who are sick and people who are oppressed by an evil system of government don’t need to be taught morality or preached to about correct doctrine.  They need food, medicine and political advocacy.

Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” [Mark 2:9-12]

Three dimensional ministry must therefore have a practical component.  Saint Teresa of Avila said:

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

What’s your three dimensional ministry?  How are you discipling others through teaching, preaching and healing?  Let me know in the comments or via email.

PS – On a personal note, I just learned on the weekend that my High-school English teacher passed away of breast cancer.  She was only in her mid 50s.  As a 20 something teacher on her first assignment she was the first person to see in me a potential for writing.  She encouraged me to journal and hone my voice, that journal evolved into this blog.  It’s been more than 30 years since I was her student, and, in that time, I have written almost every day and completed 2 books.  I skipped my High-school reunion, so I never got a chance to thank her or to show her what that simple encouragement, which she’d likely forgot, has wrought.  RIP Mrs. Favro; a good teacher never fully knows how they quietly shape the future and bring context to the past.

Don’t You Just Love a Good Symphony?


10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God” [Psalm 46:10a]

The view from my back deck 0615 this morning

A funny thing has happened to me over the last few days.

Well, not all that funny if you know me well.  You see, I’ve been craving silence.

Sometimes it seems as though I need silence like other people need air.  It feeds me and fills me with a kind of strength and peace that is simply unattainable any other way.  In the silence I hear God.

Don’t get me wrong, God doesn’t speak to me audibly like some other worldly and disembodied voice from upon high.  He doesn’t make bold pronouncements like “build an ark” or “let my people go”.  I’ve often lamented that I wish he would speak to me that way, the way he spoke to Moses through the burning bush or how he woke a young Samuel from a deep sleep.  But then again that would likely be terrifying so I guess I’ll pass.

No, God speaks to me in those thoughts that come in the quiet moments of the day.  He brings to mind people to pray for and reach out to, he plants the seeds of action and progress for my life, ministry and business but more often than not he just says:  “hey there – I’m here with you, I’m on your side, I’ve got this, relax I love you.”

Some days I tend to be a bit of a striver.  I run hard after things, like an athlete going for gold.  I remember the first time I read 1 Corinthians 9:24, I said; “Yup that’s me, I want to be that guy.”

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. [1 Corinthians 9:24, 25]

I work hard, sometimes too hard.

In my business we use a personality matrix to help us understand ourselves better so that we can direct our efforts toward the kind of prospects that respond best to our personal styles.  I’m sure you’ve seen similar things in whatever business you spend your time in.  They’ve been a staple of popular management psychology for at least the last 30 years.  The one we use the most breaks people down into 4 categories; analytical, driver, amiable and expressive.

Through a series of question and response tests you can place yourself on a quadrant diagram in one of the four areas and presto, this is who you are and how you work best.  Problem is that every time I do one of these tests, if I take my time and am honest with myself I land so close to the middle of the diagram that they tell me I must not have been honest.  Apparently nobody can be so balanced in their responses as to be nearly equal in all four traits.  Except me that is, but I digress.

On days when I tend to be a striver, (I prefer the term to driver because to my mind it better depicts a goal that you are reaching for, I’m pretty sure you can be a driver and still lack direction.) I sometimes run off ahead of God.  And when I get ahead of God things start to fall apart, deals fall through, relationships get strained and I start to crave silence so I can stop for a minute and listen to God.

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately so I tried for some quite time yesterday.  Saturdays are usually a good day to unplug from the world and sit in silence for a while but there were too many things to do, too many errands to run and too many people to visit.  I started to feel myself getting angry so I calmed myself down by resolving to get up early this morning and sit in the silence.

I began with some deep breathing exercises and an “Our Father.”  And then it happened.  The birds started it.  Not just one or two but a veritable symphony!

I was annoyed, how’s a guy supposed to hear God with all this damn chirping?  But that wasn’t all; a car with a bad muffler started up in the distance, then my neighbor’s air conditioner kicked in, a dog started barking and an airplane took off.  Did I mention I live just a few kilometers from the airport?

But just as I was about to get really upset and give up in frustration I heard it.  God whispering to me through the noise; “Don’t you just love a good symphony?”

I took another deep breath and started over; “Our Father, who art in heaven… listen to the symphony of praise your creation has brought this fine morning!

Hallowed be thy name….”

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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