Spiritual Insight for Everyday Life
I’ve never met a man who doesn’t want spiritual insight. Yet, we often miss the spiritual connections that are present in the common details of everyday life. How can we crack the shell that separates the physical and spiritual worlds, and why does it matter?
By Patrick Morley
Founder & Executive Chairman
Winter Park, Florida
Here on the blog and in our Bible study, we’ve been going through the letter of 2 Timothy. Thus far in the letter, Paul has encouraged and challenged Timothy on everything from sharing in suffering to using his gifts to spreading the gospel.
Then in chapter 2, verse 7, Paul writes, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (ESV). The NIV translates it as, “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”
It’s fascinating that Paul stops in the middle of his reminders and lessons to tell Timothy to think over it all. If it’s not enough to just read through the letter, if there is something extra to be gained by reflecting—what is it? And why do we need it?
The Shell Between the Seen and the Sacred
The answer is that we are surrounded by sacred events and forces that we can’t always see in the physical world. Our understanding is constrained by our limited line of sight.
Imagine a baby chick, busy and consumed by his little world on the inside of the egg. It’s all he sees and it’s the only reality he knows. But if he pecks and pecks, the shell begins to crack and eventually falls away.
The chick is astonished—where has all this been before? It was there the whole time of course. He just couldn’t see it.
In many ways, the same is true for us. Every day, we are walking around in this shell of what we can tangibly see and touch, and we need God to give us spiritual insight into the sacred things of the spiritual world.
A story about the prophet Elisha is told in 2 Kings 6. The king of Syria wants to defeat the nation of Israel, but every time he plans an attack, Elisha warns the Israelites, and his plans are thwarted. Finally, the king goes after Elisha, sending his army to destroy him. Here’s what happens:
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” [Elisha] said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (verses 15-17, emphasis added)
Like Elisha and his servant, we are surrounded by sacred things, but we need God to open our eyes so we can see. Paul tells Timothy to reflect not so he can gain more insight from Paul, but so he can gain spiritual insight from the Lord.
What are you wrestling with right now? What are you facing that seems insurmountable or beyond comprehension? The only way for you to understand what’s really going on is to give God the time to show you.The only way for you to understand what's really going on is to give God the time to show you.Click To Tweet
The Discipline of Reflection
A study was conducted by the University of Virginia. They asked a group of volunteers to sit in a room for 10 to 20 minutes and not say or do anything. No devices or activities of any kind were permitted in the room, and they had two rules: they couldn’t get out of their chairs or fall asleep.
But first, they showed them a button that they could press in order to receive an electric shock. Each volunteer was asked to press the button once before starting. They all reported that it felt terrible—so bad that most of them were willing to pay money to not be shocked again!
Finally, they put them in the room. After 12 minutes, 25% of the women and 70% of the men couldn’t sit there before they shocked themselves again.
French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” If Pascal’s observation—albeit somewhat hyperbolic—rang true in the 1600s, how much more does it ring true for us today with smart phones and mass media at our fingertips?
Reflection is a discipline. It doesn’t always come naturally. But we can establish routines and rhythms that give us time to practice it. And when we take the time, we get to see everything.French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, 'All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.'Click To Tweet
Gaining Spiritual Insight
Most of us are very busy with the demands of the physical world. Without some intentional habits and disciplines, we can get stuck inside the shell.
To combat that, here are some of the personal tactics I use to help me reflect. If you don’t already have established ways of practicing the discipline of reflection, why not adopt some of these? Or adapt them; God may use one to trigger in your mind some innovative way to practice reflection that is tailored to how He made you.
The point is to set aside regular time for God to give you spiritual insight.
Jesus often withdrew and went to lonely places so that He could pray. If it was important for Jesus to pray, it’s critical that we make time for it.
When I pray, I usually take an approach I refer to as “rote prayers and rabbit trails.” I have six different rote prayers that I pray through each day, and then I allow both my thoughts and the Holy Spirit to lead me down rabbit trails.
One of my rote prayers, for example, is the Lord’s Prayer. My thoughts often veer off on certain phrases in it, and I’ll talk to God about whatever is on my mind. Another rote prayer I say is, “Lord, I worship you in the beauty of your holiness and the majesty of your creation and the unconditionality of your love and the generosity of your salvation and the mystery of your providence.” It’s a short prayer, but I allow myself to go off on rabbit trails along the way. No matter what approach works best for you, make time every day for prayer.
Reading and Meditating on Scripture
I gain a lot from reading books and articles, but I only have one true reading goal—to read the Bible from cover to cover once a year. Why? Because of all the areas of insight I value, spiritual insight tops the list.
Currently, I’m doing a five-day-a-week reading plan that suits my personality. I’m not legalistic about it; I don’t micromanage or fret about whether I’m exactly on schedule. But I know that by the end of the year, I will have read through the entire Bible, like I have for the last 35 years.
There is power in knowing and reflecting on scripture. The psalmist describes a man who has experienced its impact:
His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:2-3a)
Does your soul feel dry? Meditate on scripture. If you haven’t yet formed a habit of memorizing verses, I encourage you to start. When you’re facing a difficult situation or struggling in your own sin, those memorized promises become spiritual weapons that pierce the shell and reset your mind and heart.
In 2 Timothy 2:7, Paul doesn’t say, “Reflect on what I am saying, and you will get more information.” He says, “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight.” Men are looking for insight, not more information.Men are looking for insight, not more information.Click To Tweet
This is what the preaching and teaching of God’s word provides. I love it when someone takes a scripture and shows me an insight that I hadn’t seen before. Sermons prompt us to reflect deeply on things we may not have thought about otherwise. Regularly put yourself before good teaching and ask God to give you fresh spiritual insight.
Few things crack the egg for me as much as the majesty of His creation. When I’m hiking or camping, surrounded by nature, it’s a spiritual experience.
At night, it seems like every time I look up, I see Orion. I stare at those three little hazy stars and think: It would take 13 million years for the light from the nearest star of Orion’s buckle to reach the earth. 13 million years. The shell just shatters, and my temporal worries give way to an eternal perspective.
I encourage you to make time to take it in—go for a walk along a mountain stream or the ocean, sit in a lawn chair under the stars, wake up early for the sunrise, or whatever else helps you reflect on your Creator.
Journaling is a precious practice to me, and I keep several for different purposes. For instance, I refer to one as my calling journal. I started it on June 1st, 1992, and every time I’ve had a spiritual insight from God regarding the direction of my life, I’ve written it there. It’s amazing to be able to go back through it and reflect on the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
I encourage you to give journaling a try. Not only does writing help you clarify your thoughts, but it also gives you a record of concerns, hopes, prayers, and insights that remind you of what God has done in and through you.
Fasting is a form of reflecting that I’ve done once a week for 10 years. It forces me to slow down, because at some point, I become very aware that I’m tired and hungry. I can use these physical conditions to turn my heart to spiritual things.
If you have never fasted, I believe it will remind you, too, to shift your thoughts to God as you look to Him for understanding and spiritual insight.
THE BIG IDEA: The only way for you to understand what’s really going on is to give God the time to show you.
Whatever is overwhelming you today—whatever you’re wrestling with or suffering from—make time for the discipline of reflecting. Peck your way out of the shell and behold all the sacred things that God is doing. Let your eyes be opened to see the horses and chariots of fire that surround you.