Pascal on the Infinite Abyss

Blaise Pascal

I quoted from Pensées by Blaise Pascal in my message this past weekend. Some folks have asked for me to post the quotation, so here it is:

“There was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

You can access this specific section here, as well as the entire work at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Stepping into the deep life with God

In my message this past weekend, “Deep: Changed with God,” I mentioned the importance of taking tangible action for growing deeper in the life with God. We should not merely relax into the recliner of salvation until Jesus returns. No, as I mentioned in my message, we must actively engage for growth as the Apostle Paul counsels the believers in Philippi: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:12-13).

One of the classic ways to do that is to engage with spiritual practices – or spiritual disciplines – in our lives. Just like someone learning a language, trade, or skill must step forward with tangible means to progressively develop that ability, the same is true in our life with God. In his masterful work The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard introduces us to such spiritual practices by categorizing them into two groups: disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. While clearly not exhaustive, he lists them in this way.

Disciplines of Abstinence

  • solitude
  • silence
  • fasting
  • frugality
  • chastity
  • secrecy
  • sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement

  • study
  • worship
  • celebration
  • service
  • prayer
  • fellowship
  • confession
  • submission

Disciplines of Abstinence are those in which, as you might expect, we abstain from certain things, namely, “the satisfaction of what we generally regard as normal and legitimate desires” (159). St. Peter is thinking of these sorts of activities when he writes: “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Disciplines of abstinence are helpful in that they help us bring our normal human desires into right order, when often they grow inordinately important in our lives.

Disciplines of Engagement are the healthy counterbalance to and partner of the disciplines of abstinence. When we take something out of our lives, we must put something new and healthy in its place. We must not only stop doing some things, but choose to do the right sorts of things in their place. We abstain from our wrong engagements, and then move forward with new disciplines so that our souls are properly engaged with God.

Take a moment and consider whether you have ever experienced these sort of spiritual practices in your life. How have they helped you? How have you struggled with them?

 

Two Basic Disciplines of Abstinence

Let’s take a more in-depth look at two basic disciplines of abstinence that I believe are of vital importance in our life with God.

Solitude
Solitude is our intentional choice to step away from interaction with others, whether in person or in other forms of communication. Solitude is abstaining from companionship. Jesus did this throughout his life, as the gospels attest. We read about his practice most pointedly in Luke 4-5, where, after a jam-packed days of ministry to others, he draws away.

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place (4:42).
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayer (5:16).

In The Spirit of the Disciplines Dallas Willard says: “Of all the disciplines of abstinence, solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life, and it must be returned to again and again as that life develops” (161).

Solitude is a place to explore our isolation from others, to cling to Christ, and to be strengthened for His service.

Silence
As you might expect, silence is the discipline whereby we step away from sound. In a culture that is sound-saturated, from iPods to noisy traffic, it is important for us to set aside time apart from the external clutter of sounds.

It is amazing how infrequently we experience quiet. Even the places and times that we describe as quiet, we are often saturated with ambient noise.

This discipline clearly connects with the discipline of solitude. We choose to not only be alone, but to be alone without speaking and in a place of quiet.

Silence is a place where we return to God for our reassurance and approval.

What is your experience of solitude and silence as means for connecting more deeply with God?

 

Two Basic Disciplines of Engagement

Along with the disciplines of engagement, I believer there are two disciplines of engagement, study and worship, which are foundational to developing our deeper life with God.

Study
In study, we are chiefly engaging with the Word of God. This goes hand in hand with solitude. As we draw away from others in solitude, we draw near to God through the study of the Scriptures. We feast on the riches of God revealed there and are strengthened.

David Watson captures this well:

If we feed our souls regularly on God’s word, several times each day, we should become robust spiritually just as we feed on ordinary food several times each day, and become robust physically. Nothing is more important than hearing and obeying the word of God.

Although study has the whiff of academic scholarly pursuit, it really isn’t like that. That said, it does involve much time and effort. It entails giving time and effort to meditation on key Scripture passages and reading the Bible as a whole. But the time spent there should keep us firmly rooted in the everyday realities of life with God.

As Calvin Miller says:

Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.

Worship
“In worship we engage ourselves with, dwell upon, and express the greatness, beauty, and goodness of God through thought and the use of words, rituals, and symbols” (D. Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 177).

It is worth worshiping God because He only is worthy of worship. And we do so by fixing ourselves within His goodness and greatness.

Take a Scripture passage like Isaiah 6:3:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory”

As we speak the words, we consider their meaning and speak them back through our own mouths in worship to God.

Worship is the place where we kneel down in humility before a great and good God, recognizing Him for who He is and gaining proper perspective on our lives.

What is your experience of study and worship, whether alone or in community, as means for connecting more deeply with God?

Deep: Changed with God (discussion questions)

Jesus Changes Everything Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Deep: Changed with God,” which is the second part of our series “Jesus Changes Everything” at Eastbrook Church. This study walks through Philippians 2:12-13.

  1. When have you experienced the need for a total change in your life? What lead you to that place and what happened next?
  1. We continue our series, “Jesus Changes Everything,” by looking at two verses from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi found in Philippians 2:12-13. Begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak into your life, and then read Philippians 2:1-18 aloud.
  1. The Apostle Paul is writing from prison to the believers in Philippi about their life with God. He begins chapter 2 by expressing his desire for them to in unity as a community by relating to one another selflessly (2:1-4). Jesus is an obvious illustration of what this looks like (2:5-11). He then returns to his discussion of their life together as a community beginning in verse 12 with a call to obedience. Why do you think Paul begins this next section with the theme of obedience? To whom are they to be obedient? What does that obedience look like?
  1. Verse 12 continues with the call to “work out your salvation.” From Paul’s other writings we know that this does not mean “work for your salvation” (see Ephesians 2:1-10). What do you think this phrase means?
  1. Paul says that they are to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling.” What does fear and trembling have to do with this sort of work?
  1. With verse 13, Paul clarifies that, of course, we must rely on God to do this and to fulfill God’s purposes in our lives. How does the knowledge of God’s work in our lives encourage you in the process of growing with God?
  1. Last week, Pastor Mark Lynch talked from John 2 about how Jesus changed water into wine, and how that illustrates how Jesus changes everything about our lives. What is one area that you know you need God to change in your life? Take a moment to pray, simply expressing to God your desire to put that area of your life into His hands. Sit quietly and surrender every aspect of the situation, every person involved, every feeling you have, every timeline…Simply ask Him to take it all and transform you.\
  1. What is one specific way that you sense God is calling you to grow more deeply with Him these days? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray about what you share together. If you are studying on your own, write it down, pray about it, and share this with someone during the next few days.

 

Deep: Changed with God

Jesus Changes Everything Series Gfx_Web Header
This weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series “Jesus Changes Everything” by looking at what it means to enter into the deep life with God. I jumped off from Paul’s powerful statements in Philippians 2:12-13 to get a deeper understanding of what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us to.

You can watch the message here or subscribe to our audio podcast, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site.

If you’re interested in getting to know us more at Eastbrook, please take a moment to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Vimeo. You could also join our community by downloading the Eastbrook app.

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Exile Community (discussion questions)

Exiles Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Exile Community,” which is the final part of our series “Exiles” on the book of 1 Peter. This study walks through 1 Peter 5.

  1. We conclude our series, “Exiles,” on 1 Peter by looking at chapter 5. Begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak into your life, and then read that passage aloud.
  1. Peter draws his letter to a close by discussing some final matters about the life as God’s exile community on earth. He begins by addressing “the elders among you,” which is a reference to the leaders of the church. What does Peter call these leaders to be and do in verses 1-4?
  1. What should motivate these leaders of the church, according to verse 4?
  1. With verses 5-6, Peter turns his attention to the rest of the church. It is most likely that “you who are younger” is less a reference to age than it is to the rest of the church who are not seen as ‘elders’ or leaders. What does Peter call the rest of the church to do in relation to the elders? What do you think this means?
  1. What should the defining attitude of the church be according to verses 5-6? Why?
  1. What do you think it means to “clothe yourself with humility”? What is one way you could clothe yourself in humility this week?
  1. In verses 8-11, Peter contrasts the work of the devil and the work of God. What is the work of the devil in relation to the sheep and the shepherds (compare to verses 1-5)?
  1. What should our response be to the work of the devil?
  1. According to verses 10-11 God is at work in the middle of all of this. What do we know about God and what can we expect from God?
  1. What does it mean to you that God will work with and for you according to verses 10-11?
  1. The personal greetings of verses 12-14 remind us that Peter himself lives as an exile (“in Babylon”) and is surrounded by others who are living out the exile faith-life with God. His summary statement is found at the end of verse 12. What is it and what do you think it means for you?
  1. What is one specific thing you sense God is speaking to you through this study today or through the entire “Exiles” series? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray about what you share together. If you are studying on your own, write it down, pray about it, and share this with someone during the next few days.