A Few Important Qualifications
Here are a few important truths about ‘spiritual disciplines’ (from John Ortberg):
- “Spiritual disciplines are not the barometer of spirituality”. The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people (see 2 Thess.1:3). The real issue is what kind of people were becoming NOT the exercises of spiritual disciplines we may be engaging in. We engage in spiritual disciplines not because they prove how spiritual we are but because they can lead us into God’s life.
- “Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant.” Sometimes, we wrongly think that for an activity to count as a spiritual discipline it must be something we would rather not do. However, if we are training for a life characterised by love, peace and joy then we should assume that some of the practices are going to be enjoyable, especially when we understand their purpose and benefit to our lives. Also, all the disciplines are ‘self-validating’, in that we should see the fruit of their exercise in our lives.
- “Spiritual disciplines are not a way to earn favour with God.” Salvation is not something we have to work for. It is a free gift of God’s grace. Paul says, “Work out your salvation” not work for”. Spiritual disciplines are not about trying to be good enough to earn God’s favour. They have value only as they help us to change and grow. They are a “means of grace”. They are activities that we engage in to open ourselves up to God’s transforming power. Always, the purpose is freedom and life. This is not a competition with others. Disciplines are not ‘righteousness’; they are ‘wisdom’.
Creating a Spiritual Growth Plan
Life should be viewed as a circle with God at the centre and everything else finding its meaning and perspective from that ‘centre’. God wants to be involved in every area of your life – not just your spiritual life. All of life is to be done with God. He is interested in every aspect of our lives (Col.3:17). Paul is saying that our entire lives – from the moment we wake up until the time we lay down to sleep – be lived out ‘in the name of Jesus’. That is what discipleship is all about. How is this going to happen? Well, one thing we know for sure – we are unlikely to do this if we adopt a casual or haphazard approach to our lives. We need vision, intention and means. ‘Means’ include not only a variety of ‘spiritual disciplines’ but also a ‘plan of action’ for their implementation in our life. Certain things are ‘basic’ and should be done by every Christian. Other exercises can be added in with a specific focus and possible for a specific season of time. Use creativity and be willing to experiment. What disciplines you decide to practise regularly will depend on your own sin tendencies that you are seeking to resist as well as the opportunities for loving service to God and others. Create a plan to strengthen and overcome your weaknesses. Some spiritual disciplines can be done simultaneously. Some of these can be done with other Christians, which makes their practice more enjoyable.
The first five disciplines we covered could be referred to as 'disciplines of engagement' as they refer to things we do in an active manner. They are helpful for dealing with sins of omission. The last five disciplines can be referred to as 'disciplines of disengagement' as they involve not doing something. They can be helpful in overcoming sins of commission. We need both types of discipline, kind of like breathing in and breathing out. A good balance is essential.
‘Hurry’ is a great enemy of our spiritual life. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them. Ruthlessly eliminating hurry from our lives does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried. “Busy” is an outward state (many things to do). “Hurry” is an inward state (inaccessible to God, preoccupied, caught up with my own concerns, not fully present). God will not compete for our attention.
- Reflect on your experience, if any, with each of the spiritual disciplines. Which ones have been most helpful in your own spiritual growth?
- What are the dangers of making the practice of spiritual disciplines THE mark of spirituality?
- Think about the difference between being ‘busy’ and being in a ‘hurry’. What things can we do to ‘slow’ down our lives so we can experience a greater quality of life?