Spiritual Disciplines, Part 1
Dallas Willard, in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines—Understanding How God Changes Lives states, “A discipline for the spiritual life is, when the dust of history is blown away, nothing but an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his Kingdom.”
Common disciplines include meditation, silence, prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, worship, confession, and, celebration.
There are several excellent books on this subject; Dr. Willard’s book referenced above and Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, The Path to Spiritual Growth, which I have used extensively for this article.
I cannot state too many times the purpose of the various activities. We are striving to experience the Christian life detailed in the Bible. The very life that is exemplified by the Disciples. Every effort we make must have that result in mind; a changed relationship with God.
As athletes train to be successful, Christians must train as well. God’s gifts flow to those prepared to receive them. Disciplines aid us in reducing our obsession with worldly things and our self-centeredness. This frees us to be open to God’s will. I have deepened my relationship with God by practicing certain activities. This relationship helps me as I work toward limiting my “normal” desires of prospering myself, resulting in being more open to God directing my life.
I started with silence and meditation. These two, for me, go hand-in-hand. Silence is sometimes difficult to experience. Our world is full of noise from others and our own “mental” noise. I get up an hour before my wife. The house and the neighborhood are quiet, and it is easy for me to spend a few minutes without an agenda. It may take a while for you to build up how long you can sit silently, but the benefits are worth it.
Meditation seamlessly flows from silence. I find a Scripture lesson and with it written before me I move from my silence to active meditating on God’s Word. Your clarity will surprise you as you find yourself referring to the Scripture passage throughout your day.
Prayer is the result as you thank God for His Word and ask for His Will to be done in your life today. Likewise, throughout the day you will find yourself saying prayers to yourself as you thank Him for your blessings and ask Him to bless those you know.
Fasting is a discipline that I have not incorporated into my life as yet. Fasting reminds us that we are sustained: “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Mat 4:4) Fasting helps us put our desires in their place, we come to realize we are not slaves to our appetites. This helps us as we face other “lusts” in our lives.
A recommended method of fasting is to eat normally through the noon meal and then drink water and fresh fruit juice only until the next day’s noon meal. (Obviously, if you have physical problems that might be affected by this, ask your doctor or don’t attempt it at all.)
Simplicity is freedom! Simplicity is difficult! Become aware of your life. Are your obsession with status and position healthy for you or might you refocus? I read somewhere that Richard E. Byrd, after months alone in the barren Arctic, recorded in his journal “I am learning…that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.” Try it and feel free again.
The last discipline I’ll cover today is solitude. My life, and I’m sure your life as well, includes other people. People that would not be understanding if I told them I was going off on my own for a while. That is the beauty of solitude—it is not a place but a state of mind and heart. It is an inward attentiveness, a conscious focusing on God versus your little part of the world. Freedom to be alone in the crowd. The goal is to put yourself in a position to hear the Divine. Richard Foster says in the above-mentioned book, “Therefore, we must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.”
Gently try these, being kind to yourself, knowing they are not for everyone. I will highlight the remaining disciplines in my next article. May God bless you in your efforts!