Ask An Officer: June 2021Ask an officer anything. An officer in The Salvation Army is an ordained minister of Christian faith.
I hear people say, “It must be a sign!” Is that a thing? Does God send us signs?
We know from the Bible that God has, at times, given indications of His will through specific signs. Gideon’s fleece is a famous example of this in chapter 6 of Judges. But experience hasn’t shown me that this is God’s usual way of giving guidance for perplexing circumstances or problems. Certainly, there are ways that God shows Himself to us every single day, giving us “signs” of His involvement in our lives, but I don’t think He sends thunderbolts to indicate whether we should or should not pursue a relationship. It’s important that we don’t ask for a sign as a way of landing on a “shortcut” as if all the discerning work is up to God and we just wait for a signal. (It’s also important that we don’t ask for a sign because we aren’t happy with what He’s already revealed to us!) A longing for God’s voice and direction is a righteous quality. Be sure the path toward it is characterized by prayer, a willingness to wait, the counsel of Scripture and an exercise of godly decision making.
By Major Sarah Nelson Knoxville, TN
Is it wrong for me to have doubts?
Some people are afraid of doubt or think of it as a bad thing, but I don’t think that’s true. Doubt is necessary for many people before they can believe. Faith never came naturally to me either, so it’s been a journey to get to the confidence I now have in Christ. Doubt can lead us in two directions. On one hand, if doubt leads to questions, and questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted in faith, then doubt has done good work! On the other hand, when doubt becomes stubbornness and stubbornness becomes a prideful lifestyle, it harms faith. Finding faith, the ability to believe without seeing, is a journey. (Continue to have doubts? Visit peermag.org on what you can do when doubts creep in.)
By Captain Jason Bigelow Peoria, IL
How can I implement spiritual disciplines in my daily routine?
Great question! Here’s my extended answer to this wonderful question. Let me start with a confession: I had no clue how to start implementing spiritual disciplines until four years ago. I somehow always ended up paralysed in my search for the answer. And of course, I felt inadequate: as a Christian, daughter, wife, sister, mum, officer (pastor), neighbour and friend. I exhausted myself in trying to be perfect all the time. And I thought doing more would solve the problem. I should pray more. I should read the Bible more often and with more concentration. I should join more Bible studies. I should serve more people; as a result, I got more frustrated than before. I was exhausted.
I vividly remember the day that I read this text (from The Message).
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Unforced Rhythms of Grace
You might have seen this text before. I had read it so many times, but this time, it just made sense. For the first time, I understood what it meant; not only with my mind, but with my heart and body! I realised I started to relax by reading this text. So … it was all about being with Jesus? That was the whole issue? And from there, would He take me on the journey? Can it be restful, unforced, not heavy or ill-fitting, but free and light? Can you imagine, a perfectionist like me, longing for rest? For once, not feeling any kind of pressure. Looking back, I think God used my exhaustion to have a deeper understanding of the real life that Jesus offers us.
Childhood Joys Become Spiritual Disciplines
So, that’s where I started: being with Jesus. But then the next challenge appeared: how can I be with Jesus? How do I do that? At that time, I was in a leadership course. During our lectures, I made notes in a way that I could remember what had been said easier with a lot of drawings! I remembered that one of the things I really enjoyed in my childhood was drawing. So, I started to draw again. And started to enjoy it and … I even felt that Jesus was looking over my shoulder, sensed it made Him smile. And soon I realised that drawing turned into a spiritual discipline; a way to create space for God’s presence. Spiritual disciplines become a support system.
Now I had discovered that one of my childhood “joys” could be a spiritual discipline, I started to explore if other childhood joys could be one too, like dancing, listening to music, cooking and baking. And you know, it is! I got so excited about this journey, that I dived into the subject of making a “Rule of Life.” The word “rule” derives from the Greek word “trellis,” a tool that enables a grapevine to get of the ground and grow upward, becoming more fruitful and productive.
A Rule of Life is a support system that helps us to create space for Christ and to grow spiritually.
I started to think about what could include in my own spiritual support system. I read some books like “Spiritual Disciplines Handbook” and started to use apps like “Infinitum” and finally in 2019, wrote my “Rule of Life.” I was very pleased with it, because it worked! And whenever I would feel that my love for God, others or myself was “leaking,” I would return to this rule and see what I could change.
You could get the impression that after these discoveries I was almost flying like an angel: always happy, never weary or tired. But I am still human and an imperfect one. The lockdowns because of COVID-19 hit me too.
Last year I experienced some bad moments with anxiety and insomnia. And that is where I started to notice that my good practices from a couple of years ago slowly turned into vague good intentions. And I realised that I wanted to go back to the place of rest with Jesus and experience some unforced rhythms again.
This time it was a lot easier to discover what I needed to do. I had a good look at my Rule of Life. It screamed, “Have a real rest.” So that was step one and not very difficult, because the restrictions did not allow us to do a lot. But still, I had difficulties to stop working. A friend told me about the Pomodoro technique, a healthier way of managing your time. I downloaded the “Focus Keeper” app to help me to rest more regularly and to work with more focus and joy. I started to walk more: before and after work and at night after mealtime. I noticed that “listening” enabled me to grow spiritually. So, we started to listen to podcasts and audiobooks. Marc (my husband) and I started to begin our day with listening to “Lecture 365,” an app with Bible readings, prayers and space for silence, reflection and personal prayers. We do that outside, just after sunrise, while walking. Every day is full of promises because of what the sky and the words and prayers tell us.
Mealtime & Food for the Soul
In the Netherlands, many Christians start their meal with a prayer. I noticed that our prayers tended to repeat themselves. And that felt hollow. One day a little package arrived with the book “Prayer” by Justin McRoberts and Scott Eriksson. Jessica, a great friend and colleague of ours, sent it to us and we (Marc and I) started to use it daily. I really love the images that come with the little prayers. And because of the images, I was able to remember the prayers easily. And a lot of those prayers really helped me through tough times. We also received “May It Be So” as a gift and daily notice how profound these prayers are and how they can shape our heart and thoughts.
Although we had lovely devotional times, good books and podcasts to listen to and beautiful prayers to shape our souls, I was still missing something: the possibility to share this with others. There was no “natural” rhythm of meeting people from our corps (church) because of the lockdown. But I really needed spiritual friends—people whom I could trust and share my thoughts, ideas, hopes, doubts, fears and worries with.
So, I started to organize weekly walks with a friend. These moments are just … I don’t know … amazing, awesome, incredible? Listening to stories, laughing, sharing our struggles … it’s a joy every time and something I really look forward to.
Taste the Goodness Together
Somehow our journey resulted in the desire to give something of ourselves to others. And we thought of the time we had. We decided we wanted to give something of our time to others and started to do weekly pavement-visits. Armed with a chocolate bar with a personalized wrapper, we visit people in our city. And it is not only a treat for them, but also for us. Seeing the smiles, hearing the voices … we enjoy it all! At times, it is heartbreaking as well. Seeing people feeling alone, hearing people missing friends and family. It’s COVID-19 life in a nutshell. We also restarted inviting people for dinner. To me, opening my house and myself for others leads to opening up for God. Sitting at the kitchen table, being able to share life and a meal with others is where I sense God is at work; in all of us, even when it is only with one person because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Well, these are a few of my “holy habits” that I have developed over the last years. They form my unforced rhythm of grace. For now. If you have difficulties with the words “spiritual disciplines,” just use the words “holy habits.” Start small and simple. Go back to your childhood memories. What did you really enjoy? How did you encounter God or experience something “sacred”? What is your heart’s greatest desire? Find the answers to those questions and you know where to start.
Keep it simple, be realistic and flexible. Life sometimes surprises you, so don’t get upset if it didn’t work out the way you planned. And find a spiritual friend; someone who can support and encourage you. Would you like to read more about implementing spiritual disciplines? Read “Sacred Rhythms” by Ruth Haley Barton. It’s is a brilliant book, pretty easy to read and full of thoughts and ideas to help you creating your own trellis. Be blessed!
By Captain Mariska Potters, London, England
Editor’s Note: For an easy introduction, check out “The Road Back to You” by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.
The Salvation Army is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church.
An officer in The Salvation Army is an ordained minister of Christian faith. They dedicate their lives, skills and service completely to God. Submit your question to an officer at peermag.org/contribute