Reflection in the Christian Life
February 14, 2010
Updated December 18, 2017
2 comments 24866 views
The spiritual disciplines are receiving a sort of resurgence within the Christian church today, with good reason. As Christianity has stagnated in the USA, a new emphasis has been placed on true discipleship within the Christian church. However, one of the spiritual disciplines which has not received a great deal of attention is that of reflection.
Speaking from the Reformed perspective, I believe the reason for this inattention to be twofold. First, our American society tells us to never slow down and keeps us running frantically from one thing to the next. Everything in our lives is fast paced, and any time spent in reflection would obviously be seen as "wasted" time. Unfortunately, this attitude has crept into the church. As church members we are whisked along from one meeting to another, from one program to the next. Slowing down is simply not something we are good at.
Second, I believe our Reformed theology (combined in my experience with a Dutch work ethic) has led us to disregard reflection. We have taken up the Calvinistic/Kuyperian idea of reforming all of creation and bringing all things under the Lordship of Christ. However, we have often times gone too far in thinking we are the ones bringing the kingdom, and we have busied ourselves too much in this "kingdom work." By no means do I mean to undermine reforming all of creation—I love it about the Reformed faith—but, like all things, it needs to be kept in check.
So what is the value of the reflection? Regular reflection always reminds us to constantly "check in" on the state of our spiritual lives. We can take an honest look at ourselves and see our weaknesses and our strengths.
Reflection also allows us to keep our spiritual things in the forefront of our minds. If we reflect daily on what God is doing and has done in our lives, it makes living in God's presence (coram Deo) much easier for us. Reflection allows us to look for God—in our own lives, in the lives of those around us, in our churches, and in our world.
I believe wholeheartedly that reflection is something that we as Christians need to integrate into our daily lives. Reflecting on who we are, who God is making us, how God is working in us, and how God is working around us will allow us to live more fully Christian lives. Christian reflection will allow us to step away from the worldliness of life and reorient ourselves to our Savior and Creator. Reflection will truly allow us to become better disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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Your post reminded me of a quote from Bernard of Clairvaux on reasons why we learn. He says:
"For there are some who long to know for the sole purpose of knowing, and that is shameful curiosity; others who long to know in order to become known, and that is shameful vanity. To such as these we may apply the words of the Satirist: "Your knowledge counts for nothing unless your friends know you have it." There are others still who long for knowledge in order to sell its fruits for money or honors, and this is shameful profiteering; others again who long to know in order to be of service, and this is charity. Finally there are those who long to know in order to benefit themselves, and this is prudence.
Of all these categories, only the last two avoid the abuse of knowledge, because they desire to know for the purpose of doing good. People with sound judgment act in this way. Let all others heed the warning: he who knows what he ought to do and fails to do it, commits sin; just as food eaten but not digested is injurious to one's health. Food that is badly cooked and indigestible induces physical disorders and damages the body instead of nourishing it. In the same way if a glut of knowledge stuffed in the memory, that stomach of the mind, has not been cooked on the fire of love, and transfused and digested by certain skills of the soul, its habits and actions - since, as life and conduct bear witness, the mind is rendered good through its knowledge of good— will not that knowledge be reckoned sinful, like the food that produces irregular and harmful humors? "
We are often a "head heavy" denomination, and may be accused of posessing at times a "glut of knowledge". Christian reflection, I think, is part of the process by which that knowledge is "cooked on the fire of love and transfused and digested by certain skills of the soul."--integrated into the heart and into the patterns of every day life.
Reflection is so important in Spiritual growth and it is one of my most favorite things in the world. The discipline of reflection is written all over scripture and I am especially reminded of the times when God told the Israelites to create a monument to remember the work of God in their lives, such as when they crossed the Jordan. So many times people of the old testament created these monuments to reflect and remind them of the amazing ways God had worked in their lives. I learned to do this from my parents. They have a jar of rocks and each rock represents a pivotal event that God did in their lives and the life of their family. That jar has gotten pretty full over the years. And in the difficult times many of us have sat with that jar and held on to the "rocks" of reflection as a reminder that "all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose." It has been especially meaningful in the years since my dad's death to reflect on God's amazing love for our family.
Reflection doesn't always have to be during the difficult times. In fact I have come to take great joy in reflecting during a monthly prayer group time at our church. We have a phenomenal prayer group that meets once a month to do listening prayer in the quiet, together, which is driven by scripture. The silence allows us to make room for the Holy Spirit's transformative work in our lives. It has been a source of exponential growth for me as well as many others. At the end of the prayer group we do reflection as well as at the end of the year. We reflect on the work that God has done in each of us and also corporately. I equate my emotion to that time of reflection with the excitement that my 2 1/2 year old daughter had on her Easter egg hunt this year. The joy on her face when she would find an egg hiding in the bushes was overwhelming and her excitement just kept growing through the whole hunt. Each egg was a brand new experience but more exciting than the time before. I feel the same way with reflection, but my "finds" in spiritual reflection are pure gold. It just doesn't get much better than that this side of eternity. It gives me an ever so tiny taste of heaven and I just can't get enough. To see how God moves and works in the lives of us individually and together as a body is AMAZING! But to get the most out of reflection takes work and discipline. Work to keep notes in order to jog our memories and discipline to take time to be quiet and reflect. But it is soooo worth it!
The next step is to teach others how to reflect, which has been so rewarding to me as well. Just because someone has sat in a pew all of their life doesn't mean they know how to or even realize their need to reflect. That is why it is so important to walk people through reflection so that they can model what that looks like for them and incorporate it into their daily life. So many that have grown up in the church are afraid to ask for help in this area. At our church we have tried to make it as non-threatening as possible for people to come and experience what reflection looks like and then to provide practical training steps to do it. The growth in others has been so rewarding to see. To see that moment when they "get it" and are in awe of God's amazing work in their life is phenomenal. And it draws the body together in unity.
So I couldn't agree more about the importance you place on reflection. If you haven't done it - try it - you won't regret it one bit. And if you don't know how, don't hesitate to ask for mentoring.
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