How to deal with distractions

When you pray or have devotions or listen to a sermon, do you get distracted? Do thoughts come into your mind that carry you away from concentrating on God? See what John Kleinig says, by way of Hermann Sasse (the great conservative Lutheran theologian who opposed the Nazis and the Nazified church in Germany). From that book I have been pushing Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today:

“Distraction upset me so much that I eventually gained enough courage to seek help form one of my teachers, Dr. Hermann Sasse. He listened attentively and patiently, as I explained some length how the devil always seemed to distract me at inappropriate times. When I had finished, he stopped, turned to face me, and said, ‘Who says that it is the devil? Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit.’ With that he went on his way, leaving me shocked by what he had said.”

“That bit of advice has proved to be the best spiritual counsel I have ever received. It make such good sense theologically. When else could we expect to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit than when we are engaged in listening to His Word or in praying are inspired by His Word? Since then, I have learned to regard distractions that I experience in public worship and in my devotions as the summons of the Holy Spirit, who uses these distractions to connect my life with God’s Word and to apply God’s Word to my life. Whenever I remember, I note the distractions that interrupt my worship and devotions and take each of them, if possible, as an instruction from the Holy Spirit—an instruction about something that I need to repent of or to pray for; an instruction about who to pray for and how; an instruction about what to enjoy as a good gift from God or to receive with thanksgiving…” (pp. 84- 85)

Thus, the very distractions are co-opted and turn the attention back to God as occasions for prayer. Not only that, it actually causes us to pray about what is really on our minds. This is brilliant advice, as I can testify from personal experience. Try it.

Have an unmerry Advent!

Advent is to Christmas as Lent is to Easter. That is, Advent and Lent are both penitential seasons–times to look at our lives under the Law, sober times of repentance and discipline that serve as preparation for the glorious celebrations of the Gospel that are the festivals of the Incarnation and the Resurrection of our Lord.

As our pastor put it in his sermon yesterday, this is out of synch with everyone else:

While the world is jumping into Christmas with both feet, the church says “wait.” While the world cries “joy!” the church cries “repent!” And while the world feasts, the church fasts.

But there is, indeed, Advent joy. Click the link for what that entails.

What Christian spirituality is

From Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig:

“When I speak about spirituality, I do not envisage something extraordinary—a superior way of being a Christian that is open only to a religious elite or a more advanced stage in the spiritual life. I have in mind what is given to every faithful person. Christian spirituality is, quite simply, following Jesus. It is the ordinary life of faith in which we receive Baptism, attend the Divine Service, participate in the Holy Supper, read the Scriptures, pray for ourselves and others, resist temptation, and work with Jesus in our given location here on earth. By our practice of spirituality we are not raised to a higher plane above the normal, everyday, bodily life, but we receive the holy Spirit from Christ so that we can live in God’s presence each day of our lives as we deal with people and work, sin and abuse, inconvenience and heartbreak, trouble and tragedy. We are not called to become more spiritual by disengaging from our earthly life, but simply to rely on Jesus as we do what is given for us to do, experience what is given for us to experience, and enjoy what is given for us to experience, and enjoy what is given for us to enjoy.” (Page 23)

“Thus all that our body does outwardly and physically, if God’s Word is added to it and it is done through faith, is in reality and in name done spiritually. Nothing can be so material, fleshly, or outward, but it becomes spiritual when it is done in the Word and in faith. Spiritual is nothing else than what is done in us and by us through the Spirit and faith, whether the object with which we are dealing is physical or spiritual.” (Page 24)

The table as altar

Columnist Sally Quinn , writing about entertaining guests, tossed off a provocative comparison:

When you think about it, there is a sacred quality to the sharing of a meal. Just think of Jesus's last supper as an example. The table can be a kind of altar, with a cloth, candles, wine and bread.

This, I believe, is a valid connection. As we exercise the priesthood of all believers in vocation, we serve at different altars, where we perform sacrifices of ourselves in love and service to our neighbors. We present our bodies as living sacrifices at these altars–which may be a computer, a desk, a diaper-changing table–and they are also places where we can offer up the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. But a table is especially a kind of altar, and it is fitting to adorn special meals, such as the Thanksgiving Feast, with cloths and candles and offerings.

In a meal, we receive the benefit of life sacrificed for us so that we may live–the turkey gave its life for us; so did the vegetables on our plate–life being impossible without the sacrifice of other life. Every time we eat a meal, we experience that truth, which points to the gospel of Christ, who, in turn, gives Himself to us in a meal.

Jesus swaps places with us

From Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig (which, at last count, we have boosted to #7,389 on the bestseller list, up from #200,000 something):

“Jesus does not offer us superhuman life; He does not turn us into supermen and superwomen with extraordinary physical and mental powers. Instead, He swaps places with us. He joins us in our human life on earth so that we can join Him in his life with God the Father. By Jesus’ union with us, we share in His Sonship, just as a woman who marries a man joins his family. Jesus’ position with God the Father, His status all his privileges as God’s only Son, His righteousness and His holiness, His access to the Father, His Father’s love and delight in Him, and the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit—all these are our through faith in Jesus. Yet we do not possess these gifts by ourselves; we have them only as we receive them from Jesus. We have eternal life by believing in Him and receiving it from Him. In short we borrow everything from Him.

Jesus joins Himself to us and takes us on the way that He pioneered. Therefore, we depend on Jesus as the author and perfecter of our journey in faith (Hebrews 3:14; 12:2). Since we have been baptized, we join with Him in His journey and receive all that He has gained for us in His death and resurrection. We have been crucified with Christ, put to death with Him and buried with Him; we have been raised from the dead with Him, made alive with Him and enthroned with Him in the heavenly realms for work (Romans 6:4-8; 3:1; 2 Timothy 2:11:12). As we follow Jesus in the journey of faith, we receive from Him and share in His divine life as God’s Son.” (Page 11-12)

THE book on Christian spirituality for today. . .

. . .has to be Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig. Dr. Kleinig is an Australian theologian, Bible scholar, and Lutheran seminary professor who is one of the most illuminating teachers I have come across. Many Christians today have gotten interested in “spirituality,” with some exploring Eastern meditation and arcane mysticism without ever being introduced to the distinctly Christian approach to the spiritual life. This book explores the unique “receptive spirituality” that is the life of the Gospel of Christ. Christian spirituality find its expression in prayer, the Word, the sacraments, struggle against Satan’s temptations, and VOCATION. It has to do above all with receiving “grace upon grace” in Christ.

I can hardly express you just how good of a book this is. You may think that you know what there is to know on this subject, but you would be wrong. It’s one of those paradigm-shifting, life-changing books. It deserves the treatment we gave Lars Walker’s book–buying it on Amazon so as to boost its ranking (currently #227,924) so as to attract more attention to it and help propel it to bestsellerdom. If that should happen, we would see a revival of true Christian piety. Towards that end, I will be posting excerpts from time to time, passages that I have underlined as I have read and re-read this classic in the making.

Have any of you read this already? If so, I’d welcome your testimonial about Dr. Kleinig’s teaching.