A Freely Chosen Expression of Determined Love

Some people are lists people, people who delight in organisation, thrive on routines, are lost without perimeters and flourish best when living within a certain set of rules. I am not one of those people. Never have been.
I make lists for my memory’s sake and they get lost in the myriad of other notes. I try to be organised and succeed on the surface but don’t look in the drawers or the file box!
I’m fine with rules and am happy to embrace them as long as they make sense and serve a good purpose. If they don’t…
And I have attempted routine again and again and fail every time because I get bored and restless, feeling boxed in, suffocated.

So embracing a ‘Rule of Life’ or ‘Spiritual Practices’ is not necessarily my natural inclination.
But I have experienced something incredibly satisfying, life-giving and surprisingly freeing in choosing to consciously live according to a set ‘Rule of Life’, implementing different spiritual practices within the various seasons of my life.

Often when talking with others about this, the inevitable questions will arise around how to keep a Rule of Life or spiritual practices from becoming legalistic or all about our ‘hard work’ and good performance.

In his book Heart Fire, Johannes Hartl shares some deep insight and helpful wisdom around this very question. He says:

It is both worthy and wise to lead a spiritual life that is ordered by certain structures. Structures can become legalistic and turn into a form of self-imposed slavery. But they don’t have to. They can be a freely chosen expression of determined love. And over the months and years they expand the heart. They make the heart wide for the great beauty of God.
…the objective here is not slavish adherence to a set of religious rules! And even less about…performance mentality…
The goal here is practice, training the spiritual sense of taste for the noble wine of the love of God.

I love the line ‘a freely chosen expression of determined love.‘ Because, do we not put disciplines and routines and practices into our lives to express our love for someone or something, to participate in what we love, to care for our bodies the way they deserve to be cared for so that they can go the distance, to ensure that the relationships most important to us are being nurtured? Why would we treat our spiritual lives and our relationship with God any differently?

And then the line ‘training the spiritual sense of taste for the noble wine of the love of God” – this is truly what spiritual practices are about!
I have a friend whose sister began working for a micro-brewery last year. A year ago she was happy with a bottle of Corona (apologies to any Corona lovers out there) but now she can only really enjoy quality beers and ales and can tell you quickly if one is too hoppy etc.
And this is what the spiritual practices do for us – they train us to no longer settle, to no longer be content with the cheap and easy that doesn’t truly satisfy, rather to give ourselves to what does satisfy and brings life.

Johannes goes on to share some quite practical wisdom around implementing spiritual practices:

If you would like to give new impetus to your spiritual life, make a decision, something concrete. “If the fire is about to go out, you should put another log on”, teaches Thérèse of Lisieux. By concrete, I mean a definite decision, a new step of surrender. It could be to get up a bit earlier and start a daily prayer time… For things like this it can be of great help to set a specific time and place…
A new step of surrender might also mean trying something new in Bible study, fasting and worship, something that jolts my heart out of its state of apathy. It’s important to set clear, realistic goals so that this does not remain just a pious wish. In all of this it is never a case of trying to impress God with my performance; the point is to make my heart available to enjoy his beauty through collaboration with his grace.’

‘Something that jolts my heart out of its state of apathy’ – I think we all need this at times. If you are anything like me, you might need it fairly frequently. But not because you need to look or act a certain way or be a certain type of person to please God. Instead it’s about living life, true life, to the full, the way He intended, because you have freely chosen this way of life due to determined love.

And the beauty of all this lies in that last statement – ‘the point is to make my heart available to enjoy His beauty through collaboration with His grace.’

If your heart resonates with this, join me now in praying this beautiful prayer by George MacDonald from his famous The Diary of An Old Soul:

‘When I can no more stir my soul to move, and life is but the ashes of a fire; when I can but remember that my heart once used to live and love, long and aspire – O, be Thou then the first, the one Thou art; be Thou the calling, before all answering love, and in me wake hope, fear, boundless desire.’

Glasgow Subway and the Kingdom of God

Ever participated in a Sub Crawl? No, it’s not a typo. It is meant to say ‘Sub Crawl’ as opposed to ‘Pub Crawl.’
Some Glasgow residents from various churches recently participated in just this as part of Thy Kingdom Come in May. If you have ever been on the Glasgow subway, you will know that it makes a circular route and this small prayer group decided it was perfect for covering different sections of Glasgow in prayer.
Lal Dhillon was part of this group and shares here his reflections on the night.

“It’s just after 7pm on Wednesday night. The sky above Buchanan Street is a faint blue, tinged purple at the edges, and the air feels cool but heavy. There’s the typical sense of busyness tonight, as people come and go throughout the city centre, but surprisingly it seems quieter than usual. After a few moments, I realise there are no buskers out tonight, or at least none near enough to hear.
We pray together briefly, then take the escalator down to the crowded Subway platform. I’m not normally great with crowds, so I slip my headphones in and turn my music up loud, trying to tune out my anxiety and turn my heart back to Jesus. I pray for a fresh sense of His love and peace in my city. I pray along with the words of the song in my head: ‘wind of God, come breath upon us’ and as I do the ground beneath me shakes and air rushes past me as the next train arrives.

By the time I step through the doors, there is nothing left but standing room. We’re all carrying sheets of prayer points with us, but I can’t reach it in my pocket from where I stand. In fact, as the train leaves the station with the sound of a hurricane, it’s all I can do to hold myself upright. In the absence of anything to read or direct me, I shut my eyes tight and pray again for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in my city as I hold tight to the railing above my head, doing my level best not to crash into the people around me.
As I stand there, ears full of music and the roaring of the train, arms and legs straining against the forces around me, I struggle to think of a setting that would be farther away from the prayer room at my home church. There’s no communion table, no mood lighting, no comfortable 1am quiet to contemplate the scriptures. And yet, as I pray, I can feel the presence of God thick about me.

As we pass more stations, the train gradually empties, and I’m grateful to finally find a seat. As I sit and pray, I watch as people with tired eyes return home from long working days, as friends gather for nights out, each stepping on and off of Glasgow’s circulatory system. Each one is striving for something, whether that’s a good night out or an early night in bed. Each one of them carries their own story, each travelling from one point in their lives to their next, and in the layers of these different stories, the city of Glasgow emerges.

***

So what does it look like for the Kingdom of God to come in Glasgow?
When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied ‘Behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you’ (Luke 17:21b). It seems like a strange answer, and I think that’s kind of the point, because when you think about it the Pharisees’ question isn’t a very good one.
They’re watching Jesus go about interpreting the Scriptures and healing the sick, and talking about the Kingdom as if it hasn’t arrived yet.
They’re waiting for God to come and overthrow the Roman oppression, while Jesus is getting ready to overthrow the oppression of death itself.
And so, when they ask Jesus when the Kingdom of God is coming, Jesus turns around and responds, “I’m here!”.
The Kingdom of God was in their midst because Jesus, who gave life to all creation and who still holds it together today, had put on skin and bone and deigned to walk upon His earth which they inhabited. He read and interpreted the words of the Prophets which He had inspired in temples which they had built out of His stones. Jesus walked, talked, ate, slept and breathed the world which was His, and as He did he established His Kingdom among the people, proclaiming freedom for captives, forgiveness for debtors, health for the sick, life for the dead and love for the unloved.

***

Eventually, the carriage we’re on empties entirely, so that it’s just the five of us left. With no one to disturb, we raise our voices in prayer and worship. As I open my mouth to sing and to pray, the sense of release is palpable. As a group, as a community, as His Church, we join together in worship, singing high the praises of our God and inviting Him to come and dwell in our city.
And as we do, Jesus is in the midst of us, sat alongside us in His subway, ready once again to establish His kingdom amongst us.”

Lal is a member of the Glasgow United prayer team, who seek to support churches in Glasgow to pray for their city and nation in unity. He leads ‘Project Wanderlust’, a missional project seeking to see a greater realisation of the Kingdom of God in gaming culture. He is also a student at the Scottish Baptist College and a graduate of the Forge Pioneer course.