If you were to come to an imagine/Northampton worship gathering (and we'd love you to), you'd experience a spiritual formation exercise we call Leave Aside. It is different every week and comes from how we open Listening in Christ retreats to help people "leave aside" anything which would distract them from focusing on and receiving what God wanted to give them. We do the same thing to begin worship so people can attend to God and what he wants to show them. I invite them to write anything they need to "leave aside" before we go any further into worship. They write it on a card, put it in a basket, and we leave them all outside the door of our space.
The following was yesterday's exercise. The point of each paragraph is to emphasize what Jonathan Edwards calls "the greater internal heart duties," or Johannes Tauler refers to as the need to "have the soul to open herself wider, to be able to receive much, that He may bestow much upon her," or Hannah Whitall Smith says must "be the interior surrender of the convicted free men," or Ignatius of Antioch reveals what God could accomplish with someone who could "abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and . . . allow His grace to mould them accordingly." Themes of wholehearted surrender and abandonment to God focused the reflection.
So I asked everyone to ponder each statement, then look at the questions following to ascertain if God wanted them to see where further spiritual formation was necessary in them. I challenged them to spend this week revisiting the exercise with God daily as part of prayer time with him.
I invite you to do the same with the exercise this week. See what returning daily to these questions might open to your heart. Ask God to reveal truth to you. Invite him to draw you nearer to his heart through them.
1. “The first and the great work of a Christian is about his heart. Do not be content with seeming to do good in 'outward acts' while your heart is bad, and you are a stranger to the greater internal heart duties. See that your chief study be about your heart; that there God's image may be planted; that there His interests be advanced; that there the world and flesh are subdued; that there the love of every sin is cast out; that there the love of holiness grows.”
Ask Jesus to show where he wants you to attend to “the greater internal heart duties” where the “Love of holiness grows,” and God’s “interests be advanced.” Where are you still a “stranger to the greater internal heart duties?”
2. “It is not of God's severity that He requires much from man; it is of His great kindness that He will have the soul to open herself wider, to be able to receive much, that He may bestow much upon her. Let no one think that it is hard to attain thereunto. Although it sound hard, and is hard at first, as touching the forsaking and dying to all things, yet, when one has reached this state, no life can be easier, or sweeter, or fuller of pleasures; for God is right diligent to be with us at all seasons, and to teach us, that He may bring us to Himself, when we are like to go astray. None of us ever desired anything more ardently than God desires to bring men to the knowledge of Himself. “
Johannes Tauler (14th Century German Dominican preacher and mystic)
Ask God to show you where he still “desires to bring (you) to the knowledge of himself.”
3. “I saw that the kingdom must be interior before it can be exterior, that it is a kingdom of ideas, and not one of brute force; that His rule is over hearts, not over places; that His victories must be inward before they can be outward; that He seeks to control spirits rather than bodies; that no triumph could satisfy Him but a triumph that gains the heart; that in short, where God really reigns, the surrender must be the interior surrender of the convicted free men, and not merely the outward surrender of the conquered slave.”
Hannah Whitall Smith (19th Century author, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (1875))
Ask God to help you surrender your heart and not be enslaved by that which promises what it can never deliver. Where are you still enslaved?
4. “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mould them accordingly.”
Ignatius of Antioch (second bishop of Antioch in Syria; martyred in the 2nd century)
Invite God to “mould” you to the degree of abandonment necessary for him to accomplish all he desires in and through you. What do you hold back from him?
I would love to hear how God spoke to you through this.