Monday, November 3, 2014

The Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual habits or disciplines have shaped Christ's followers for centuries.  I believe today we need to rediscover those tools for spiritual growth.  There is no list of spiritual disciplines in the Bible, but the scripture is full of examples of people practicing spiritual habits, such as prayer, scripture study, fasting, and solitude.  To find a systematic description of disciplines, one can look at Christian writers through history.

Richard Foster gives a description of disciplines in The Celebration of Discipline, and in The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard  explains what disciplines are, and how they are helpful in the life of a Christ follower.  He says that disciplines are activities we engage in with our physical bodies which help us deepen our relationship with God.  These activities do not earn us points with God, but they help us develop our spiritual muscles and help us become ready to receive God's blessings.

Consider these analogies:

  • You put a plant near the window so that it gets more sunlight.  The place on the window sill is important only because it puts the plant in the sun.  The sunlight makes the difference, not the particular location.  Similarly, solitude, as a spiritual practice, has value because it puts us in the place where God can speak to us.  Isolation has limited value by itself; but being able to hear God speak is essential for the Christian life.
  • Basketball players run wind-sprints as they train.  No one ever won a game by sprinting alone, but the practice of plyometrics develops speed and endurance; with speed and endurance, players have better ability to rebound, shoot and defend.  In the spiritual realm, scripture memory can help us stand firm when tempted, letting us live in the Spirit's power, not our own weakness.  Scripture memory doesn't guarantee victory over temptation, but it provides us a solid spiritual foundation on which we can live victoriously.

I found it difficult to teach on the spiritual disciplines, because most biblical teaching on disciplines is indirect. But I do want my teaching to be rooted in scripture.  So as I teach at Crossroads about spiritual habits or disciplines, I refer to the Great Commandment of Jesus, Mark 12:29-30 (NIV) "The most important [commandment]," Jesus answered, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'"

I now base my teaching on spiritual habits upon Jesus' instruction about heart, soul, mind and strength.  After studying other writers' lists of spiritual disciplines, I have grouped the disciplines as follows:

Heart  (Will)
Personal Emotional Development
The habit of Worship
Sacrifice, Celebration
The habit of Fellowship
Submission, Confession
The habit of Stewardship
Frugality, Tithing

Personal Intellectual Development
The habit of the Study of God’s Word
Memory, Reading, Study
The habit of the Study God’s World
Current events, Literature, Art, philosophy, Science, Industry
The habit of Entertainment

Strength (Body)
Personal Physical Development
The habit of Sabbath
The habit of Service 
Evangelism, Secrecy
The habit of Health
Chastity, No addictions, Exercise, Diet

Personal Spiritual Development
The habit of Prayer
Silence, Fasting
The habit of Solitude
The habit of Blessing

In future posts, I want to dig into this spiritual habit I call "entertainment."  Stay tuned...