The deepest theological insights are almost always birthed in conjunction with definite activities, the language and practices of disciplined, regular worship, which are concrete means of grace given to us by the Holy Trinity to provide a doxological pathway to the knowledge of God.

Note my emphasis on discipline. Knowledge comes by hearing God’s voice, and we must learn to be quiet if we are to hear. Knowledge comes as we are nourished by God’s own light and life. If so, this means we must avoid filling ourselves with the spiritual junk food that Christian” culture too readily provides.

In a broken world like ours, the habitual practice of classical spiritual disciplines can become the linguistic and practical substructure for greater blessings and deeper knowledge than we would ordinarily think possible.

The biblically rooted experience of God’s people throughout the ages very strongly suggests that certain specially graced practices, reflections, habits, and dispositions, certain specific ways of thinking, speaking, loving, and acting, tend to empower our response to God’s invitation to know him, so that we are led ever more fully into his incomprehensible mystery.

This is not to suggest that these practices have some sort of magical power. On the contrary, the value of spiritual disciplines grows out of the ordinary, uncomplicated fact that our minds and bodies have been deeply, regularly influenced by all kinds of errors, illusions, fanaticisms, and enticements that are antithetical to the values of Christ’s kingdom. We, like our brothers and sisters throughout Christian history, are prone to distraction from Christ’s call, drawn to the allurements of sin as surely as iron filings are drawn to a magnet. We often find ourselves responsive to the pull of spiritual and natural forces over which we appear to have little control. If we are not vigilant – a favorite word of ancient believers when it comes to dealing with temptation and sin – a radical disjunction can occur between our theoretical beliefs and our concrete behaviors. We slip into a kind of spiritual schizophrenia, affirming key ideas and practices one minute and then violating them the next, advocating the truthfulness of one reality but habitually living in another.

So, although God invites us to enter freely into his abundance, entering in wisely, fruitfully, safely, and sanely is anything but easy in the brokenness of our culture and our lives. It is a craft to be learned, a skill to be honed, through the power of the Spirit and through the coaching of believers who have walked this path before us.

One trustworthy group of Christians to heed consists of the desert dwellers of the 4th century AD, the desert fathers and mothers who practiced obedience to Christ in a monastic fashion in the desert and wilderness areas of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. Members of the Renovaré Book Club became familiar with these folks as we read Athanasius’ Life of Antony together (2015). Desert Christians such as Antony invested long years developing exactly the spiritual vigilance” that is necessary for persistent, diligent, focused pursuit of God in the midst of the brokenness that fallen humanity constantly faces. They’re great coaches on the spiritual life and its disciplines. We’ll take a closer look at their ideas and practices next week.

This series has been adapted from Steven D. Boyer and Chris Hall’s The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable. Hungry for more? Please visit Baker Academic for more information.

· Last Featured on August 2023