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Spiritual Disciplines

A Practical Strategy

Prac­tices such as read­ing Scrip­ture and pray­ing are impor­tant — not because they prove how spir­i­tu­al we are — but because God can use them to lead us into life.
—John Ort­berg

Jesus is the way to life — and not just life after death, but life here and now. When he said, Fol­low me,” he meant it. In all he did and taught, Jesus con­veyed that our spir­i­tu­al life takes place in our phys­i­cal real­i­ty as well as in the heart. If we believe what he said about the spir­i­tu­al life, it only makes sense we should do what he did.

The prac­tices of Jesus have been rec­og­nized for cen­turies as the core activ­i­ties of the spir­i­tu­al life. In the same way a run­ner is equipped to com­pete in a marathon by the dis­ci­pline of phys­i­cal train­ing, so train­ing through spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines frees us to live each day with the easy yoke” and light bur­den” Jesus spoke of (Matt 11:30).

Dis­ci­plines do not earn us favor with God or mea­sure spir­i­tu­al suc­cess. They are exer­cis­es which equip us to live ful­ly and freely in the present real­i­ty of God — and God works with us, giv­ing us grace as we learn and grow.

Med­i­ta­tion: The abil­i­ty to hear God’s voice and obey his word.

Med­i­ta­tion is the abil­i­ty to hear God’s voice and obey his word. Chris­t­ian med­i­ta­tion allows for a pre­cious space in time for a meet­ing between God, the Lover, and we, the beloved. We can meet with God in ever-grow­ing famil­iar­i­ty and inti­ma­cy not because of any of our spe­cial abil­i­ties, but sim­ply because we come will­ing to enter into a lis­ten­ing silence. It is a cre­ation of space, emo­tion­al­ly and spir­i­tu­al­ly, in our often hec­tic and hur­ried world, allow­ing the Cre­ator of the uni­verse to meet with us as he met Moses, face to face, as a friend.

What hap­pens in med­i­ta­tion is that we cre­ate the emo­tion­al and spir­i­tu­al space which allows Christ to con­struct an inner sanc­tu­ary in the heart.
—Richard J. Fos­ter, Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline
(Addi­tion­al quotes on this page from same source.)

Prayer: The inter­ac­tive con­ver­sa­tion with God about what we are doing together.

Prayer is the inter­ac­tive con­ver­sa­tion with God about what we are doing togeth­er. Prayer is, first and always, lis­ten­ing to God — seek­ing to grasp what his will is in any giv­en cir­cum­stance. In lis­ten­ing and per­ceiv­ing God’s will, the pray-er is inevitably a par­tic­i­pant of change, with­in one­self and those cir­cum­stances and lives for which we pray. Prayer is a process of life­long learn­ing as we seek to approach our Father with open­ness, hon­esty, and trust as his child.

Our prayer is to be like a reflex action to God’s pri­or ini­tia­tive upon the heart.

Fast­ing: The vol­un­tary denial of an oth­er­wise nor­mal func­tion for the sake of intense spir­i­tu­al activity.

Fast­ing is the vol­un­tary denial of an oth­er­wise nor­mal func­tion for the sake of intense spir­i­tu­al activ­i­ty. The focus of bib­li­cal fast­ing is always on spir­i­tu­al pur­pos­es. The heart of one who is fast­ing is to seek God, most often pri­vate­ly and with no motive to gain approval from peo­ple. Fast­ing pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reveal those things that con­trol us. It reminds us that we are sus­tained by every word of God and it restores bal­ance in a believer’s life regard­ing pri­or­i­ties and nonessentials.

Fast­ing must for­ev­er cen­ter on God. It must be God-ini­ti­at­ed and God-ordained.

Study: The mind tak­ing on an order con­form­ing to the order of what­ev­er we con­cen­trate upon.

The dis­ci­pline of study first demands a hum­ble spir­it, rec­og­niz­ing that the chief end is not mere­ly to amass infor­ma­tion, but to expe­ri­ence it, learn from it, and be changed by it. It is vital to study not only books, but also those things around us such as nature, rela­tion­ships, events, and cul­tur­al val­ues. Through the steps of study – rep­e­ti­tion, con­cen­tra­tion, com­pre­hen­sion, and reflec­tion – a per­son emerges trans­formed, in awe of the beau­ty of God and the world around them.

Remem­ber that the key to the Dis­ci­pline of study is not read­ing many books, but expe­ri­enc­ing what we do read.

Sim­plic­i­ty: An inward real­i­ty that results in an out­ward life style.

Sim­plic­i­ty is the joy­ful uncon­cern for pos­ses­sions we expe­ri­ence as we tru­ly seek first the king­dom of God and his right­eous­ness” (Matt 6:33). Per­sons liv­ing in sim­plic­i­ty real­ize free­dom from anx­i­ety by view­ing pos­ses­sions as gifts from God, remem­ber­ing we are stew­ards to care for God’s gifts to us, and mak­ing our goods avail­able to oth­ers. Sim­plic­i­ty is a dec­la­ra­tion of war on mate­ri­al­ism and it reori­ents our lives, per­spec­tives, and attitudes.

Con­tem­po­rary cul­ture lacks both the inward real­i­ty and the out­ward life-style of sim­plic­i­ty… We are trapped in a maze of com­pet­ing attachments.

Soli­tude: An open rela­tion­al space for being found by God and freed from com­pet­ing loyalties.

The expe­ri­ence of soli­tude varies wide­ly from tak­ing advan­tage of the lit­tle soli­tudes in our days to set­ting aside planned times of retreat to step out of our dai­ly pat­terns in order to enter into the silence of God. This dis­ci­pline, which is nec­es­sar­i­ly mar­ried to silence, leads also to greater trust in God to be our Jus­ti­fi­er as even the very words we speak are tamed.

Soli­tude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place.

Sub­mis­sion: The dis­ci­pline which frees us to let go of the bur­den of always need­ing to get our own way.

Growth in the dis­ci­pline of sub­mis­sion requires a per­son to con­sid­er the ways with which they view oth­er peo­ple. A per­son act­ing in sub­mis­sion will be respect­ful and con­sid­er­ate of all peo­ple. They will first be sub­mis­sive to the Tri­une God, then the Scrip­tures, their fam­i­ly, neigh­bors, the body of Christ, those bro­ken and despised, and final­ly the world. Lead­er­ship and pow­er are found and demon­strat­ed by becom­ing a ser­vant of all.

Jesus calls us to self-denial with­out self-hatred. Self-denial is sim­ply a way of com­ing to under­stand that we do not have to have our own way. Our hap­pi­ness is not depen­dent upon get­ting what we want.

Ser­vice: The many lit­tle deaths of going beyond our­selves which pro­duces in us the virtue of humility.

While the dis­ci­pline of ser­vice has a wide array of man­i­fes­ta­tions, from hos­pi­tal­i­ty to lis­ten­ing and many beyond, at the cen­ter is found a con­tent­ment in hid­den­ness, indis­crim­i­nan­cy, and a pat­tern of ser­vice as a lifestyle. A per­son choos­ing to serve will find tremen­dous free­dom in giv­ing up the need to be in charge.

True ser­vice builds com­mu­ni­ty. It qui­et­ly and unpre­ten­tious­ly goes about car­ing for the needs of oth­ers. It draws, binds, heals, builds.

Con­fes­sion: Expe­ri­enc­ing the grace and mer­cy of God for heal­ing the sins and sor­rows of the past.

Though through our Medi­a­tor, Jesus Christ, we may con­fess our sins and be direct­ly for­giv­en by God, we also have the oppor­tu­ni­ty and admo­ni­tion to con­fess our sins to one anoth­er” (James 5:16). In receiv­ing a con­fes­sion by a sis­ter or broth­er in Christ, a believ­er has an incred­i­ble chance to min­is­ter under­stand­ing and forgiveness.

God has giv­en us our broth­ers and sis­ters to stand in Christ’s stead and make God’s pres­ence and for­give­ness real to us.

Wor­ship: Enter­ing into the supra-nat­ur­al expe­ri­ence of the Shekanyah, or glo­ry, of God.

Wor­ship is enter­ing into the supra-nat­ur­al expe­ri­ence of the Shekanyah, or glo­ry, of God. Wor­ship is far beyond a mere peri­od of time spent singing on Sun­day morn­ing. It is a lifestyle spent cease­less­ly lay­ing aside our human­ly ini­ti­at­ed activ­i­ty, giv­ing way to the teach­ing of Jesus and the activ­i­ty of the Holy Spir­it. We offer our whole being in wor­ship: our voic­es in song, our bod­ies in pos­ture, our spir­its in prayer; all for the pur­pose of first lov­ing the Lord our God.

Wor­ship is the human response to the divine initiative.

Guid­ance: Know­ing in dai­ly life an inter­ac­tive friend­ship with God.

Peo­ple who are fol­low­ers of Christ are con­tin­u­al­ly grow­ing as we learn to heed the guid­ance of the Holy Spir­it and the teach­ings of Jesus in our indi­vid­ual lives. But we also must strive towards uni­ty in the body of Christ as we seek the will of God in a cor­po­rate man­ner. Just as God led his peo­ple Israel by a cloud by day and a pil­lar of fire by night through the wilder­ness, he longs to guide us now, not only as indi­vid­u­als, but also as a body.

Uni­ty rather than major­i­ty rule is the prin­ci­ple of cor­po­rate guid­ance. Spir­it-giv­en uni­ty goes beyond mere agree­ment. It is the per­cep­tion that we have heard the Kol Yah­weh, the voice of God.

Cel­e­bra­tion: A life of walk­ing and leap­ing and prais­ing God” (Acts 3:8).

Cel­e­bra­tion is a life of walk­ing and leap­ing and prais­ing God” (Acts 3:8).
God loves to cel­e­brate and loves even more when we, as his peo­ple, join him in cel­e­brat­ing all the won­der­ful things he has done for us. Joy that is exhib­it­ed in cel­e­bra­tion keeps every­thing else going, pro­duces ener­gy and makes us strong. This gen­uine and sus­tain­ing joy is achieved through obe­di­ence to God. Cel­e­bra­tion man­i­fests in end­less ways: singing, danc­ing, laugh­ing, as well as tak­ing advan­tage of cel­e­brat­ing fes­ti­vals, hol­i­days, and the mile­stones of life.

Cel­e­bra­tion comes when the com­mon ven­tures of life are redeemed.

Next: Global Expressions

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