Engaging any spiritual practice is a practice in trust. Perhaps we don’t think of trust as something we practice, but it certainly is. Indeed, following Jesus is essentially a lifelong practice of trust. Oftentimes, trusting involves a great deal of discomfort and uncomfortable soul-stretching. As I write today, I am aware that I have a difficult conversation scheduled tomorrow with someone who is angry with me. Though I’ve learned to engage conflict, I hate it. I’m aware of all that could be lost or gained in this conversation. Meanwhile, I’ve been practicing surrendering to Jesus all the things I can’t control, such as someone’s opinion of me or their own personal history or emotional wounds which might make them angry with me no matter what I do!
This is all we can ever do facing things we can’t control: we practice trusting God even when things feel scary or painful. We trust he is at work within us, to transform us. We surrender what we can’t control. For this specific conversation, it means I prepare to listen from a place of generosity rather than defensiveness. But my soul would be lost in this preparation without spiritual practices like prayer and a slow reading of scripture. By such practices I can tangibly enter into a posture of trust and cling to it.
This can take real energy. Spiritual practices often “cut against the grain.” It takes effort to surrender my anxiety in prayer—to “cast my cares” on God, as the scripture says. That’s why discipleship requires commitment. We put our soul in a posture of trust, even when we don’t feel like it. We give thanks for all things, even when it doesn’t feel natural. We practice generosity, giving our money for God’s purposes in the world, even when some part of us wants to hold onto all of it. We forgive, even if it is at first a begrudging choice. Only by such practices of trust do we discover a new posture for living. And only by such effort, when faithfully engaged, will our hearts become open to God. Ultimately, we can become a people who have no fear of death or anything else because we are so aware that God is with us and that nothing can separate us from His love. We are a people who practice continual death and resurrection on a spiritual, psychological, and emotional level, so that when physical death comes, we are well-prepared to trust the resurrection we have already long experienced. Spiritual practices help us become open to God and the confidence that results can make even death seem a very minor thing. This is the experience of eternal life on this side of eternity which Jesus clearly intends for us to enjoy.
This openness to God through spiritual practice is exactly what we see in Jesus. Luke tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to solitary places to pray.” Quite simply, Jesus got tired, his soul weighed down by life, and he needed to re-connect with God his Father. So he practiced becoming and remaining open to God. It was this practice of trust that Jesus engaged on the cross, focusing on the sinner in need at his side and on forgiving those that were crucifying him, rather than focusing on his own suffering. How did Jesus do this?! Quite simply, he had an ingrained habit of trusting God, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Jesus had practiced trust such that his soul could trust even when facing brutal and terrifying execution.
Will we be ready for death, as Jesus was? We can be. But it will require a disciplined set of practices that help us become open to God. Because ultimately, it’s simply seeing and experiencing Who God really is—the God of All Love--which transforms us.
 I Peter 5:7
 I Thessalonians 5:18
 Romans 8:38-39
 Luke 5:16