9. Our Common Life Together

So, we see that being a practicing Christian takes a lot of practice-that daily attention to the Word of God, the ways of God, and the will of God.  Practice makes us better.  What have you been practicing with and for other believers in your faith life?

Of course, participating in the shared Christian practices is not simply a matter of making them a priority subject to your will. Practices are not something to control.  On the contrary, Christian practices require active submission.  As an example from my own life, once in a while, when it seems that for weeks I have been home only to sleep and shower, I will wake up on a Sunday morning and contemplate the pleasures of staying home from church, “just this once”, drinking coffee, reading, catching my breath, and having the house to myself, maybe taking a long walk.  Over the years I have come to label this misplaced desire for home and solitude as “red flag Sunday” because rather than being at church, actively practicing with my believing family and sharing the Lord’s meal with them at the Communion table, I am being tempted to stay home alone attending to my own leisure while pretending that worship-and my place within it- is inconsequential.  In these instances, I must recognize Satan’s lie; there is nothing corporate or worshipful about staying home alone on Sunday morning.  If you are like me, you dutifully go on to church anyway because this is how you participate in a practice; worship, as a shared Christian practice, means your presence is important.  As a church member, you have made very public promises to this congregation to be there for and with them.  In my experience, sitting in worship and Sunday school on a “red flag Sunday” is always the most wonderful morning in God’s presence, praising him together with my beloved church family, and with absolutely no regrets.  A life of practice, then, gives us the strength to be submissively yet firmly obedient in times of temptation.

As you may have guessed by now, these shared Christian practices are, by nature, meant to infuse, inform, and support life, minute by minute, day by day, and season by season as we yield to their power through Christ and the Holy Spirit to structure and direct our life.  They are the cure for the arrhythmic, time-starved heart threatening to arrest your soul’s health and growth. They are simple.  Curative.  Restful.  Spacious.  Grace-full.  Is it not, after all, a life worth considering, when you are asked each day by the Lord,

          “Where are you?”

And, in face-to-face confrontation,

          “What do you want?” 

The shared Christian practices, therefore, are meant to strengthen us both individually and in our common life together as believers.  They help us think critically together, and to develop healthy responses to cultural temptations and evils we must resist, especially those that threaten our common life together.  Craig Dykstra puts it this way:  Our Christian practices give us abilities for “criticizing and resisting all those powers and patterns…that destroy human beings, corrode human community, and injure God’s creation.”[1]   Not long before losing her earthly life to cancer, Kara Tippets wrote of the importance of showing up for one another,

“Friends. Community.  It is the only way to know and be known.  It’s where we see our own humanity and frailty, our gifts and our weaknesses.  When we show up for one another, we invade each other in love and become witnesses to the truth that trials and sickness and pain are not the whole story.  There’s more, so much more. We can remind one another that our lives are not a mistake.  And, more importantly, that we are loved with and everlasting love.”[2]

So, it is in our shared Christian practices we show up for one another in good times and bad. There are so many things we do today, individually and as a society that foster misguided patterns of thought and behavior.  In essence, we too easily become thoughtless.  We waste natural resources, abdicate care of the poor, and prize our individualism, civil rights, and retirement portfolios.  Sustained participation in the shared Christian practices instead teaches us to sniff out injustice, to discern social patterns which threaten family, to give up our right to self, to learn to serve others wholeheartedly, and to work to redeem and restore our all-too-common human penchant for destroying rather than stewarding Creation.  And it teaches us that there is strength in doing these things together.

To What Have You Become Accustomed?

Of course, not everything we do is a practice, so we must distinguish between practice and custom.  In the United States, it is customary to sing the national anthem before sporting events, to use a knife and fork when eating, to have cake on a birthday, for a man to give a woman a diamond ring for engagement, to hold parades on major holidays, and to follow an agriculturally-based school calendar.  In the same vein, there are many once-common customs we have lost.  Men no longer wear dress hats or women dress gloves.  Generations no longer live together in sprawling family units.  It is no longer customary for children to walk to school.

What customs have led to habits that might need your discernment?  Staying up too late watching television?  Skipping meals?  Skipping church “just this once”?  Non-stop use of your cell phone while in the presence of others?  Dressing provocatively?  Living together outside of marriage?    Yes.  Your customs are visible in your daily actions and decisions.

In the next post, we will look at the common elements of a Christian practice on our way to studying the shared meal in the life of believers.

Please SHARE this with friends!  Thank you for following along.  Wish we could pull up a chair and share a pot of tea!

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.


[1] Craig Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices, 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), p. 43.

[2] Kara Tippetts and Jill L. Buteyn, Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together (Colorado Springs, Colorado: David C Cook, 2015), p.11.


8. Jesus asked, “What Do You Want?”

There’s No “I” in “Us”:  We Really Do Need Each Other

Despite the ongoing need to get our personal faith practices in order, the historic Christian practices are genuinely meant to be both social and communal.  As we’ve seen, the corporate nature of Christian practices is most evident in the things we gather to do together: worship, prayer, feasting, reconciliation through confession and forgiveness, testimony, co-mission, lament, and the breaking of bread.  As with any practice, these are done in and through the life of the church repeatedly– we practice our faith together.  Craig Dykstra writes that these are “practices where life in Christ may be made known, recognized, experienced, and participated in.”[1]  Thus, this kind of life is recognizable, experiential, and participatory, and the natural outcome is that people really should know us by our love.

These ordinary things we do, sometimes as family, other times in small groups and as “church” truly have an extraordinary impact on our individual and shared faith life.  Practicing together is a little bit like being on a team, or to use Paul’s analogy, being one body with many parts.  We each have important roles, and together “we come to perceive how our daily lives are all tangled up with the things God is doing in the world.”[2]  Everything we do, or fail to do this day and all days is important to God’s plan for each one of us, our family, our church family, and the world at large.  This is why it is important for each of us to consider what we do with our time.

Because we are embedded in a culture which idolizes individual autonomy, it’s important for Christians to remember that we are also surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to the life of faith (Hebr. 12:1), and that we have an obligation to study our lives and look for all the ways we have crafted habits of independence rather than inter-dependence.

“We live in a time of increasing emphasis on individual sensibilities and needs, what essentially has become a spirituality of the personal self… We can so easily come to feel that we need no one.  Our social context encourages us to make our own choices, live our own lives, and engage with others only when we think they have something to offer us.  This is not Christian spirituality… 1 John 1:3-4 reminds us that joy is made complete when we are in fellowship with God and one another.”[3]

So, instead of going solo, searching for a personalized, pseudo-spiritual experience empty of connections with others, we must take a concerted look at what we practice, both at home, and in church with other believers, on a weekly basis.  Do this and you’ll begin to understand how, “a meal becomes a time of forgiveness.  A day of leisure becomes a day of contemplation.  An illness turns into an experience of solidarity with the poor.  An occupation becomes a vocation.  Giving becomes an expression of gratitude.  A burial becomes a time of thanksgiving.”[4]

Perversely enough, practices takes time, energy, and dedication, the very things we profess to have little to spare; there are already too many claims on our life, so practicing can’t be something extra to cram into an already-packed schedule.  Others may have more time, but not feel physically or emotionally well enough to enter into the regular commitment a shared practice entails.

In any case, we will keep coming back to this idea that few of us believe we have enough time to practice our faith well together because of competing daily demands to which we feel we must attend.  This is especially true for families with children at home.  Are you kidding?  Gather all of us together for nightly dinner?  Go to church together every weekend?  Pray daily as a family unit?  This issue is not about becoming more efficient or productive.  On the contrary, what we truly need sometimes is to step back, identify the real problem (usually we are over-committed, especially our children), and pray about how to better prioritize our individual and family activities.  This often involves humbly admitting that our children cannot participate in every wonderful opportunity open to them.  It means limiting what I call the family’s AIP, or Activities in Progress.[5]  For example, a child may have to choose between a sport and a musical instrument, or being at the family evening dinner instead of working after school at a job in order to pay for a car when the car is necessary only to be able to get to and from the job.  It literally means that in our families we must get our house in order by prioritizing the evening meal at home, worshiping together on the Sabbath, and daily prayer together as a family.

“What Do You Want?”

This is a matter for thought and prayer.  One day, John the Baptist’s disciples followed Jesus.  “Turning around, Jesus saw them following, and asked,

“What do you want?”” (John 1:37).

We must let Jesus confront us and ask the same of us.  As we too follow Jesus, we must expect him to turn, look us directly in the eyes, and ask that unsettling question.  If we say we want to follow him, then admitting that we are out of practice is an excellent place to start.

It is my prayer that this discussion of the shared Christian practices gives you pause.  Next time, will will dig into the truth that our faith life is truly strengthened when we do these things together.  In the meantime, plan a meal, invite someone not normally found at your table, linger over the food and fellowship.  If not now, when?

And if you like what you’re reading, share it, and click on the FOLLOW button too. Add a comment in the LEAVE A REPLY box below to start a conversation!

~Julie A.P. Walton


[1] Craig Dykstra, Growing in the Life of Faith: Education and Christian Practices, 2nd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), p. 43.

[2] Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C. Bass, “Time of Yearning, Practices of Faith,” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, ed. Dorothy C. Bass (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997), p. 8.

[3] Gordon T. Smith, A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005), pp. 10-11.

[4] Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C. Bass, “Time of Yearning, Practices of Faith” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, ed. Dorothy C. Bass, p. 8.

[5] Melanie Nelson, Don’t Believe the Hype about Finding One Cool Trick to Productivity, The Chronicle of Higher Education Academe Today online newsletter, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1168-don-t-believe-the-hype-about-finding-one-cool-trick-to-productivity?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en&elq=61fc968c605c4024a9c05692c7b20806&elqCampaignId=1680&elqaid=6672&elqat=1&elqTrackId=53cb266e80b44d9c9f011d608cec6c31. October 23, 2015.

7.God is the Author of Time (and He has Given you Enough)

So, even though we have work to do to get our priorities and loves in order,  we must also admit that doing such things can inadvertently create a works mentality that is, for most practical purposes, pharisaical.  Remember, when we come to Christ, we bring nothing but our sin, our sorrow, and our shame.  His atoning work on the cross is what gives us a hope that pours forth in praise, thanksgiving, and adoration.  So, there is nothing we can do or bring.  Christ is all, and our discipleship and growth in Christ-likeness is “built entirely on the supernatural grace of God.”[1] It is true that sometimes we must persevere through the wilderness of boredom, apathy, busy-ness, and fatigue in carrying out the disciplines and practices which frame and bolster our faith– much like an athlete who doesn’t feel like going to practice today goes anyway and pushes through the adverse emotions.

You Don’t Understand!  There Isn’t Enough Time in a Day!

It is precisely for the pressed and dry times in life that we deliberately set our sights on holy living by fixing our eyes on Jesus.  It is an attitude that defies “time” and declares fidelity to looking for and leaning on God in all life circumstances- what is typically called a disposition.  In other words, our disciplines and practices lead us to become disposed to actively seeking and acknowledging God’s presence and sovereignty in every aspect of our lives.  All the same, since the Fall, humans have been mostly disposed to avoiding God.  “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””  (Genesis 3, 8-9).

I think God still calls to us today,

                                                                                 “WHERE ARE YOU?”

And a typical response is,

“I’m here Lord.  But, I’ve been so busy!”

These virtues and habits that develop when we practice our faith help us become inclined, or disposed toward God and the things of God.  But they are not ““natural” in the sense of being inborn capacities or abilities; rather they are “second nature”: acquired… over time by participating in the routines and rituals of a tradition…”[2]  This is why we must be open to the practice of our faith on a daily basis.

Likewise, our second nature is a disposition largely affected by our practices, especially those that we learn through handed-down ritual and attend to with consistency.  Moreover, there is something unique and lasting about a practice.  Alasdair MacIntyre defined a practice as having significant internal goods, meaning that the object and consequence of the practice can only be achieved by regular absorption in the practice itself.[3]   Take the shared meal as an example.  As a Christian practice, the internal goods of a shared meal include fellowship, acknowledgment of God’s provision and presence, generous sharing and hospitality, and acting as a regular place and space for testimony- learning about and sharing the gospel.  If, at meal times, we come to the table only because we physically need to eat, then we fail to seek the truly internal goods of the shared meal; eating in itself is not a practice precisely because we can eat anything, anywhere, at any time in our culture.

So, practicing one’s faith as lived devotion through spiritual disciplines and Christian practices help a person-even a child- become stronger, healthier, and more resilient in the face of life’s unpredictability.  Think of it this way: your heart has an internal pacemaker responsible for what is called normal sinus rhythm which stimulates the heart to beat in a regular, predictable way, both at rest and in response to physical or emotional stress.  Our individual and corporate faith practices strengthen the faith life’s pacemaker if you will; attentively practicing our faith miraculously generates a consistent and healthy life rhythm, and the death grip of too little time in our lives is instantly relaxed.  Instead, our time becomes permeated with God’s presence, and we become more skilled in being still before him.  There will continue to be moments when you feel compelled to hurry or, perhaps, inclined to idle mindlessness, but you won’t ever again need to feel harried or bored.  It sounds simple, and it’s meant to be.  Restlessness fades when you practice making room for God in your life.[4]  It is an important thought with which you must wrestle:

                                                        God has given you enough time.


~J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 2011 mobile application), October 21.

[2] David I. Smith and James K.A. Smith, Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011), p.8.

[3] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), p. 187.

[4] If you are unsure where to start, think about the practice of Sabbath-keeping.  We consistently underestimate the value of the rest of God, and the vanity of our incessant striving after things of the world.  For ideas, see Marva Dawn’s book, “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly” and Dorothy Bass’ book, “Receiving the Day”.  If you are unsure how to start, think about disconnecting from any common-day addictions that may sap your available time, including the television, telephone, internet, fitness center, children’s activities, shopping mall, and, perhaps, work itself.

6.Spiritual Discipline or Christian Practice?


The Christian life is a training ground

As a Kinesiology professor at a Christian college, my office was in the athletic complex. Around 3:00 p.m. on a typical weekday, athletes would begin streaming past my door on their way to practice-a two-hour period for which the coaches had made distinct plans for individual and team improvement. Most of us can relate to this notion that sports performance is enhanced by daily practice of the techniques and strategies necessary to be competitive. The same holds true in music; becoming proficient on one’s instrument takes years of daily practice with repetition of scales and scores on one’s own, as well as corporate practice with the band, orchestra, or ensemble.

So we have a natural understanding that these kind of skills-athletic and musical- require much repetitive practice to grow as an athlete or musician. But, this is often where this application breaks down. Once out of school, our busy lives fog our thinking when it comes to purposeful planning and practicing and cultivating maturation in our faith life. The Christian life is a training ground for eternity. We must, then, submit to its daily practice.

There are two important ways Christians can nurture and deepen their faith. One is to participate in any number of spiritual disciplines like the study of Scripture, prayer, fasting, and observing the Sabbath. The other is to engage in multiple Christian practices including worship, prayer, feasting, testimony, and the breaking of bread.

Notice here the similarities and differences between the two approaches. Both the spiritual disciplines and Christian practices take intention, planning, and follow-through. They require submissive and sacrificial practice that is consistent and repetitive, not unlike the way an athlete shows up to practice and follows a coach’s directions and plan. Both take time and personal investment.   Most importantly, both are formative in nature, meaning that when practiced consistently they become embedded in our daily responses, rhythms, and reasoning, and make us more skilled at handling change, challenge, and the needs of others with grace and wisdom. In other words, through time and practice we mature in virtuous living and Christlikeness, training to one day stand on holy ground.

The critical difference between spiritual disciplines and Christian practices is that the spiritual disciplines are practiced individually, much like a musician practices scales, whereas the Christian practices are performed in and through community with other believers-with an ensemble or the entire orchestra if you will. One has to do with “me” and the other “we”. Table 2.1 helps show where these activities overlap and where they are distinct.

Table 2.1. The Spiritual Disciplines and the Christian Practices

Both (Me and We) Spiritual Disciplines (Me) Christian Practices (We)
Prayer Sabbath keeping Worship
Bible study Solitude Hearing Scripture & teaching
Fasting Frugality Fellowship
Confession Honoring the body Feasting
Forgiveness, Reconciliation Testimony
Lament Hospitality
Submission and Obedience Co-mission
Sacrifice Breaking of bread

Undertaking these actions in both our individual and corporate Christian life is not easy, especially at first. Life has a way of getting in the way. But, the more we practice the more likely these will become life habits that help condition and train us in ways which fortify our souls and insulate us against life’s trials and vagaries. In every way, they strengthen our ability to respond to God and neighbor. More importantly, the spiritual disciplines and Christian practices work together to form in us the twin habit of looking for God and looking to God in every life situation.  We will continue this discussion of being a practicing Christian next time, and you will begin to understand how and why the shared meal is, truly, a Christian practice in our homes and the Church.

If this blog is helping you, please leave a comment to stimulate further discussion!

4. Too Busy to Eat


Arrhythmic Lives……..As an exercise physiologist, nutrition professor, and wellness educator, I have long been intrigued by the notion that God’s gift of time envelopes us in a regular, rhythmical embrace of hours, days, weeks and seasons. From the primal rhythm of each heartbeat to the predictable pull of the moon on tides, from the daily need for sleep and food to the coming of winter after harvest, our bodies and our communities are shaped and framed by time. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when our responses often affect our health.

When it comes to physical, emotional and spiritual health, it is important to pay attention to these God-created rhythms.   Our non-stop activities put us in perpetual fight-or-flight-response mode, causing hormones like cortisol, designed specifically to help us respond to immediate threats, to course through our veins for hours on end, keeping us literally wired for action. Consequently, our blood pressure rises.  Our gut tells our brain to eat more high-energy carbohydrate.  Insulin response to rising blood sugar is blunted, and our sleep patterns become disturbed. As a result, our bodies don’t get the regular, rhythmic rest they need, and we find ourselves self-medicating with sugar, caffeine, “energy” drinks, fast food, TV/internet surfing, and sleeping pills to keep the “on” button lit like a pilot light.

So, we live rather arrhythmic lives, pulled out of step by a culturally subtle but very real centrifugal force that thrives on flinging us helplessly outward into a world where time is compressed, and the great unspoken assumption is that we can control it. Time is no longer gift, but an increasingly frustrating commodity in a warped economy with a currency of minutes and hours; just like money, we never seem to have enough time. On a daily basis we live the dual lie that being busy is virtuous (because we all know that the opposite, idleness, is a vice), and that accomplishing everything on the endless to-do list is necessary. What’s worse, we unthinkingly adopt the idolatrous notion that the calendar is the true center of our lives. Commitment to God is reduced to three-minute “devotions”. We slot prayer into the commute to work, we over-schedule and over-manage our children to ensure their successful launch into this perverted world, we skip meals and eat on the fly, and fall into bed too exhausted for nighttime prayer or the delight of intimate physical union with our spouse. We run not the good race, but the futile one. We don’t flourish, we survive, and our filled time leaves little room for making the Lord the center and focus of our lives.

Of course, we must not forget that for each one who experiences the stress of rationed time, there are others with unwelcome time on their hands. For some, one’s heartbeat seems slowed to a crawl, and the hours drag. Those out of work, the aged and alone, and those suffering illness can find that time slows into long, often boring and lonely stretches of hours and days. This is just as stressful as time famine.

In either case, we become unsettled. Restless. Even as the church calendar weaves its liturgical rhythm through our days, we find ourselves surprised and breathless- it’s Advent already? How did Christmas get here so fast? We don’t have time to ask ourselves, “What’s the hurry, why so rest-less?” I often find myself asking how I am supposed to work, and create a stable home life, and be a faithful presence in my church family and local community, and take care of growing children and aging parents, my spouse and myself without losing my way? How do I spend time with God- really seeking his presence- when each day is already so full? More importantly, how do I ever find enough time to respond lovingly and selflessly to the needs I see all around me, praying for those needs and for the salvation of others? Conversely, how can people with too many painfully empty hours view time as God’s gift? I think we all intuitively know God’s answer: “Be still and know that I am God.”  

After all of this, you won’t be surprised to learn, as we dig into the meat of Shared Meals, that eating together on a regular basis immunizes against slavery to time.

May you find that lingering with others over a good meal brings rest, clarity, peace, and togetherness.  Go ahead!  Plan a meal.  Invite others.  Share.  There’s a simple rightness to it all.

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.