How to Use Word and Spirit Guides

AN INVITATION

In these posts you will hear an invitation.  You are being called to connect to and to commune with the God who creates you, who saves you, and who sustains you, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Insofar as these Word and Spirit Guides enable you to hear and respond to that grace, utilize them.  If anything in these guides becomes a hindrance to hearing or responding to the grace of God, set it aside and attend to that which will connect you to the God of grace.

What you have in these guides is a tool.  Just like a hammer or a tractor or a compass, it has a telos, or a purpose.  If used correctly, such tools can aid you in building, planting, or navigating your way on an unfamiliar road.  In a similar fashion, these guides can aid you in navigating your spiritual journey of devotion to God through an encounter with the Living Word and the Holy Spirit.  These guides can help focus you on God, encourage you to participate in those practices that draw you close to God, and help you find your way along your spiritual journey in the middle of a confusing world.

However, if used incorrectly, if using these guides becomes a law or a compulsion or a list of things you must do, then these guides can become a distraction and hinder your spiritual growth.  For instance, if you use a hammer to drive nails into wood, using it for its intended purpose, then it can aid you in being quite productive, helping you to build things that were previously not there.  Yet, if you use it apart from its intended purpose, say to brush your teeth, it can be utterly destructive!  If you use these guides as tools to assist you in your spiritual growth, tailoring their contents to your context, they can help refresh your soul.  If these guides become just an outline of prayers you must pray or Scripture passages you must read or Christian practices you must attend to, then they will rob you of the joy and life that comes from serving God.

Furthermore, these guides are designed to be a aid for the people of the Byromville and Drayton United Methodist Churches in Dooly County, Georgia, and the Wesley Foundation of Americus, GA.  Our worship and congregational life for the church year will follow the structure of these Word and Spirit Guides.  However, these guides can become a useful tool as well for those outside of the specific life of these two churches and this particular Wesley Foundation.

SEASONS OF GRACE

In our Word and Spirit Guides, we will take special note of the Christian year.  The Christian year is made up of six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost (or Kingdomtide).  This gives to the Christian year a certain rhythm of birth, life, struggle, death, resurrection, and new life.  We see this rhythm reflected in the life of Jesus Christ.  Since we are his disciples, we find our own lives reflecting these rhythms as well.  We come alive to God in Christ, we discover patterns of living for God, we face struggles and experience sorrow while finding our way through life, we enter into seasons of disappointment and failure, we are made new through redemption, and we come alive again to new works of the Holy Spirit within and through us.

Within the rhythm of the Christian year there are three high holy days of the Church: Christmas, Easter, and the Day of Pentecost.  There are other holy days which we celebrate throughout the year as well: Ash Wednesday, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christ the King Sunday, and others.  Within these guides, these high holy days and other holy days will be highlighted, along with their significance.

And yet, any day of the Christian year has the potential to be a day in which we come into life-changing communion with the grace and holiness of God.  It all depends on if we spend that day connected to God in Word and Spirit.  When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, he gave spoke these words to her: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  Elsewhere in John’s gospel, Jesus identifies himself as “the truth” (John 14:6).  This One who is “the truth” is also identified by the evangelist as “the Word” (John 1:1-18).  Essentially, Jesus is telling the Samaritan woman that the way to approach God is through the Word and the Spirit.  In other words, we are to connect to God and commune with God through the work and presence of the one called Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Any day in which we intentionally commune with and pay attention to the working of the Word and the Spirit can be transformed into a season of grace.

WHAT TO DO

Each Word and Spirit guide will be broken up into two sections: appropriately, Word and Spirit.  In the Word section, the focus will be on Scripture and how we interact with Scripture.  The Word of God speaks on its own in both its original context and its timeless truthfulness.  In this sense, the Word speaks objectively.  However,the Word also speaks to our present context, subjectively.  We must remember, though, that the Word only speaks to us subjectively when we have first allowed it to speak objectively.  Thus, there are two basic ways of reading Scripture.  One way is the reading of Scripture critically and the other way is the reading of Scripture devotionally.  When we read critically, we read to know the Scripture, and when we read devotionally, we read to grow from our encounter with Scripture.

Every week, in the Word section, there will be an image, the Scripture for the week, and a guided reflection.  The image will have a connection with what is being spoken of in the Scripture.  The Scripture itself is the lectionary passage from the week that will be used as the basis for the sermon and service the following Sunday.  The reflection will focus on the integration between the image and Scripture.  As you read the Scripture, read it to both know and to grow.  Ask these questions of the passage, which are also included in every week’s Word section of the Word and Spirit Guide:

Reading Scripture to Know:

  • What is happening/being said?
  • Why is this happening/being said?
  • What does the rest of Scripture say about it?
  • What does it mean?
  • What does it mean for us?

Reading Scripture to Grow:

  • What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
  • Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
  • How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
  • How does this Scripture reveal God?
  • How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
  • How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
  • How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
  • What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?

In the Spirit section, we will participate in those Christian practices that place us in the middle of the flow of the Holy Spirit.  These practices, such as prayer and meditation, bring us into contact with the Spirit and facilitate our communion with God.  Through prayer and meditation, we experience the truth we read in the Word firsthand.

Every week, in the Spirit section, there will be a prayer focus, a meditation focus, a journaling focus, and a breath prayer.  These practices will correspond to the Word from the previous section.  When the Spirit and the Word work together, they draw us into the Living Word and allow us to commune with and worship the Father.  As you pray during the week, be guided by what you read in the Word and how the Spirit speaks presently to you.  May your prayers be an personal expression of the living Word abiding within you.  Meditate on the Word and allow it to move through your soul, listening as the Spirit whispers words of grace and love into your mind.  May the Living Word renew your mind through communion with and focus on God.  Take time to write reflections in a journal, reminding you how the Word has taken root within you in the past and how the Spirit might move you into a new experience of God in the days to come.  May you give witness to how the presence and activity of Living Word has written your personal story.  And finally, throughout your week, as you find yourself in moments of challenge, need, or reflection, breathe in the truth of the Word and the presence of the Spirit, and breathe out the simple phrase of trusting petition found in the breath prayer.  May the Living Word connect you at all times with the mercy and compassion of God.

These Word and Spirit guides are designed as weekly guides and not daily guides.  They can be used daily, of course.  However, the theme lasts for the whole week.  Too often we use daily devotional guides that change themes daily.  We rush through the Scripture, through the practice, through the theme, and end up consuming our devotional life instead of intentionally practicing communion with God.  The weekly guide gives us the latitude to sit with one passage and theme for a whole week, so that the Word and Spirit might work through our whole selves, like the yeast from the gospel parable of Jesus.  In this way, we are more thoroughly transformed than when we rush into and out of scattered daily devotions.  This also allows us to space out what can be very meaningful spiritual practices.  For instance, Tuesday might be your day for meditation; Wednesday might be your day for reflecting on the image included with the Word; Thursday might be your day for extended prayer centered on the Scripture; and so on.  This also prepares us to come to Sunday morning worship with a deeper yearning for and understanding of the Scripture.  Thus, we learn to abide in God through the Word and Spirit, rather than simply utilizing Scripture and spiritual practices to check off another day of devotion.  However, we are encouraged to continue with daily Scripture reading above and beyond the Word and Spirit Guide, and so a daily schedule of Scripture readings is included in the Word section of each guide.

Each new weekly Word and Spirit Guide will be uploaded on Tuesday and will cover Tuesday through the following Monday.  Monday is considered a sabbath day for the purpose of the Word and Spirit Guides, a day to rest from worship preparation after coming together on Sunday morning.  Our new week, then, will begin on Tuesdays with a new Word and Spirit Guide and with our 8:30 am communion and prayer service at Byromville UMC.  Of course, though, even in our times of sabbath God is willing and desiring to commune with us in grace and joy.  Thus, there will still be a Monday Scripture reading and we are always encouraged to continue praying on Monday.  On Mondays the audio sermon from Sunday will be uploaded and listed as the “Pastoral Response” to the previous week’s Word and Spirit Guide.

Brothers and sisters, this is an invitation to grace through the Word and Spirit.  Pray these prayers, read these Scriptures, meditate on the images and themes, and be willing to place yourself within the stories so that you might encounter the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in deep communion and in the power of the Holy Spirit!