Reaching Out (Mar-Apr 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Scott Owings
March-April, 2005

The cultural interest in spirituality and the church’s awakening to spiritual formation is indeed refreshing. And while I don’t want to be pessimistic, I do think we need to be aware of the narcissistic danger that exists. To help us from turning spiritual formation into the latest, self-serving individualistic fad, we would be wise, I believe, to remember the importance of outreach.

Outreach is ultimately about reaching out to God—our Creator and Redeemer, Lord and Friend, who is holy, loving, faithful, and near. As we reach out to the Triune God and gradually understand we are loved unconditionally, we begin to see that He has given us (both individually and as a church) the high calling of loving others. In other words, our identity as beloved children and our vocation of loving are tied together like mast and sail—both gifts, and together our life’s work.

 

  • As Henri Nouwen has pointed out, outreach (i.e., loving God and thus others) follows a few basic movements, each with a multitude of possible actions: Moving from loneliness to peace.
  • Moving from busyness and conflict to hospitality.
  • Moving from selfishness to service.

Moving from loneliness to peace
Most people in our society and many in churches are lonely. We live in a busy, high-tech world which, while making our lives easier and less complicated, has brought an ever-increasing sense of loneliness and anxiety to millions. The ‘fix’ to this dilemma is not some program or special class, good as those might be. The answer instead seems to be, as Saint Serafim of Russia wisely said, “Be at peace with yourself and thousands around you will be saved.”

Deep inner peace is not only a gift to be received but something to be pursued. Therefore, our first order of business is to seek the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. As we slow down our lives and move towards a life of simplicity and contemplation, we make room in our lives not only to receive the Spirit’s gift of peace but to be a peacemaker as well. Toward this end, prayer and silence deserve greater emphasis—in our corporate gatherings as well as our individual lives. (see the suggestions in the right column for more on an ancient practice called “Lectio Divina”) After all, how can we even think about reaching out and touching others if we are busy and worried and exhausted?

Moving from busyness and conflict to hospitality
Because of our society’s lack of peace, internal strife as well as relational problems has multiplied. Just a cursory glance at the high divorce rate and the numbers of troubled youths (not to mention an almost epidemic frequency of depression) reveals the reality that many people in our society and in our churches are not handling anger and internal conflict very well.

The good news is that the peace of Christ not only heals anger and hostility but frees us up to the important spiritual practice of hospitality. Hospitality is not limited to merely inviting someone over for a dinner, even though that is a much-needed activity. Hospitality is primarily an attitude of the heart; a welcoming spirit that communicates, “I’m glad you exist and that you are here, right now, with me.” Practically, this might mean taking the initiative of inviting someone over to dinner once a month, as well as to a church assembly, small group, or special event. But there’s much more to hospitality than an invitation; there is the all-important gift of ‘presence’ that we can offer—that is, to be present to others, to listen, and, perhaps most importantly, to ask questions. And when appropriate, we share our story of blessing and struggle and grace and love as well.

Moving from selfishness to service
The sad reality is that most people think primarily about themselves. However, as the love of Christ, which is constantly being poured out by the Holy Spirit, grows in our hearts, we begin to want to serve as Christ did: to give to the poor, to care for widows and orphans, to heal the sick, to comfort the grieving, to care for God’s creation, and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.

Motivated by inner peace and armed with love, we gradually begin to look for and see those daily opportunities that God brings to us, as well as to intentionally make time and effort to ‘go’ to where the hurting are in order to witness in action and in speech to the love of Christ.

As we make these ‘moves’ towards reaching out to God and others, not only will the Spirit form us but he can work through us to bring the love of God into the lives of others.New Wineskins


Resource: Lectio Divina

An ancient discipline, practiced at one time by all Christians is Lectio Divina. Literally it means sacred reading. It’s a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, to become a means of union with God. This practice has been kept alive by the monastic tradition, particularly the Benedictine order.

It begins with cultivating the ability to listen deeply, “to hear with the ears of our hearts” as St. Benedict encourages. We are trying to be like Elijah who listens for the still small voice. It is seeking to hear the cry of the prophets and Jesus when they said “Listen!”

Of course to listen, to really hear, means we must be silent. We must learn to love silence. The problem is we live in a noisy world and cannot hear quiet sounds very well. Lectio Divina requires that we quiet down in order to hear God’s voice.

1. Lectio. Read a passage from Scripture (two to three times—at a normal rate, slowly, and preferably from another translation).
2. Meditatio. Ask the Lord to provide a word or phrase or symbol. The image of the camel chewing its cud has been a symbol of the believer pondering the word of God. We quietly chew on this word, repeating it, allowing it to interact with our thoughts, hopes, memories, and desires.
3. Oratio. We allow the word of our contemplation to touch and change our souls. We ask the Lord to take this word touch our real selves.
4. Contemplatio. We simply rest in the presence of the One who has used his word to draw us closer to him. Words are unnecessary. We cease striving to understand or think or plan and simply be.

Group Lectio:

1. Read the text, asking people to listen for the word of phrase that touches the heart.
2. Silence. Meditating quietly on the word, repeating it.
3. Share the word.
4. Read the text (opposite sex).
5. Silence.
6. How is Christ the Word touching your own experience/life?
7. Sharing what you have seen or heard.
8. Read the text.
9. Silence.
10. What is Christ calling you to do or become this week?
11. Share.
12. Pray for person on right.

Scott OwingsScott Owings is minister of spiritual formation and outreach at the Otter Creek church in Nashville and a spiritual director in training. Prior to coming to Nashville, he and his wife Lisa were missionaries in East Europe for ten years. Scott enjoys walks with his wife, reading and playing with his three children, and drinking good coffee with a great book.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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