For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Most Important Moment of the Day

When I look back at my Christian life, I realise that there have been many things that the Lord has used to steer my relationship with him. There have been books and seminars, retreats and conferences, conversations and music. Of course, one of the most important has been the commitment to attend regularly in a Bible-preaching church and become involved in its life. But there is something even more foundational than that.

A friend of mine seemed to know God. There was something about him that seemed to radiate the presence of Jesus. He wasn't perfect. He wasn't one of those people with a naturally magnetic personality. Somehow the presence of Jesus seemed to be almost like a cologne. No, you couldn't smell it, but it was there. I asked him about it and he shrugged his shoulders as if he didn't know what I was talking about. So I asked him to describe a typical day.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
He smiled, and said, "Well, it begins with what I call the 'Morning Watch'". He could tell I was confused and he said, "In Psalm 5:3 it says, O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I direct my prayer to you and watch."

"Oh, you mean like having your devotions."

"Yes and no. If by 'having your devotions' your devotions you mean reading some devotional book or perhaps following a scheduled bible reading plan, then no. It may include those things, but the morning watch is different."

I was intrigued.

"The word "watch" means to look at, observe, or keep watch for something. I picture a watchman or lookout or guard. They are patiently observing. And in Psalm 5:3, the thing that the psalmist is looking for is the Lord himself. So the morning watch is a time of watching and looking for the Lord."

"Sounds a little weird. Tell me more. How do you do it?"

"Well, it begins with prayer. I usually pray, thanking God for the day and the opportunity to meet with him. Then I read a portion of Scripture. Usually not large a few verses or a paragraph at the most. I usually just read the next passage in a book...right now it is 1 John...but many times I read the same verses for several days in a row. And then I ask the Holy Spirit to teach me and show me how this applies to my life.

"And then I watch. I listen. I wait. And the Spirit frequently begins to speak to me. It isn't an audible voice that I hear with my ears. It is a spiritual thing. Hearing with spiritual ears is hard to describe. Sometimes I don't hear anything. But often I do. Sometimes it seems like a particular word or phrase is highlighted to my spiritual eyes. There is a sense of his presence being with me, and even if there is nothing profound that I am seeing in the passage, I have learned that the Lord is building something inside of me.

"I also pray. There are concerns I have that I want to talk to the Lord about, but in many ways the process is the same. I hold a concern before him and watch. I want know the direction of the Lord in my praying. I don't want to just mouth some appropriate words, but I want to understand God's heart regarding the situation. I am watching."

The conversation went on and we talked about many practical things that got me started on the way. Since then, I've learned more, but I am convinced that it is one of the most important spiritual disciplines there is.

Some questions:
Does it have to be in the morning? No. Sometimes schedules make first thing in the morning almost impossible. But there are advantages that must be seriously considered. First, it gives an orientation to the day. Second, it is usually the time when you are least likely to be disturbed or distracted. Third, there is evidence that it was a habit of Jesus (Mark 1:35).

What if I don't "hear" anything? Be patient. The Lord will teach you, but it takes time. Believers often fall into two categories. Some people are looking for an emotionally satisfying experience. They read a few verses, wait a few minutes, and are disappointed. Others are looking for intellectual stimulation. They read a few verses and don't discover some new truth and turn away. The Lord is seeking to build relationship. It will, given time, provide much more than a fleeting emotional experience or an intellectual head rush. It will give life.

Isn't discipline a lot like legalism? No. Legalism is a Christian life lived by rules rather than relationship. It is seeking to justify yourself or measure your sanctification based on keeping rules. Discipline and Disciple are closely related words. To be called to a spiritual discipline is not legalism. Believing you are holier than others because you haven't missed the Morning Watch in a month is legalistic thinking. Disciplining yourself so that the most important relationship you have gets the time it needs is simply wisdom.  In our rejection of legalism, we must be careful not to reject discipline.

Can I integrate other things like music? Sure, but remember that the purpose is to meet with God, not to be entertained or emotionally moved by our favourite music. I find that music with words distracts from the morning watch, but instrumental music sometimes helps to hide other noises that might catch my attention.

Isn't this mysticism? That depends upon your definition. If by mysticism you mean the seeking of nebulous spiritual experiences, then no. But if by mysticism you mean "that which is difficult to explain", then yes. It is difficult to explain how one hears or senses the Holy Spirit, but the Bible clearly teaches that it is an important part of the Chrisitan life.

Photo by Hetty Stellingwerf on Unsplash

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