First steps with Spiritual Disciplines - Beware tripping!

Ours is an age where ‘effort’ for many often amounts to no more than flicking a button, touching a screen or even giving a voice command. So, I find it interesting to meet people who go against the ‘minimalist’ trend, people whose own definition of effort entails hours of dedicated discipline and exercise to achieve their desired goals. How do they do that? Why do they do that? What is driving them to make such an extensive effort?

Each summer, I watch the broadcast footage of the Tour De France cycle race and am in awe of the riders who speed along the flat and up mountains. I enjoy the fruit of their years of dedicated effort as they pursue their aims. I smile as I realise I could never achieve what they do.

I wonder what your approach is to being a disciple of Jesus? How much effort do you expend following him? Are you a minimalist or extensive when it comes to the effort?

It’s two thousand years since he called his first disciples, sat, ate, talked and laughed with them. And over the years many people of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicity have come to know, follow, live for, serve and share in His love and life. Out of their shared experience grew a common approach to discipleship. A set of Spiritual Disciplines, core activities, were exercised which enabled people to develop a deeper, intimate relationship with God.

The pre-requisite for these activities is a longing after God. ‘As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.’ Psalm 42

Door to liberation

“The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm,” says Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline, Hodder & Stoughton). The book explores the 'classic disciplines' of Christian faith: the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission and service and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

Foster says they are for every ordinary human being - such as people at work in the factory or caring for children, and those who type and design at a computer screen; and the disciplines are best expressed in the middle of everyday life. They shouldn’t be thought of as dull drudgery as the keynote to them all is joy. And he states the purpose of the Disciplines “is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear”.

Three ways to trip with the Disciplines

  • Relying on our own efforts
  • Doing nothing
  • Knowing the mechanics

Firstly, relying on our own efforts and willpower, whether minimalist or extensive, to achieve spiritual growth “may produce an outward show of success for a time, but in the cracks and crevices of our lives our deeper inner condition will eventually be revealed”, explains Foster. I think this is what Jesus meant when he talked about the outward display of goodness from the Pharisees. Human effort has the same shortcoming as the’law’ – it can only deal with externals and is incapable of bringing about inner transformation.

As we read the Bible we begin to realise that inner transformation (righteousness) is a gift from God to be graciously received. The change in us is God’s work, not ours. We can’t achieve or earn it, it is a grace that is given. As Paul writes to the Romans: ‘But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.’ Romans ch5 v17

The second danger is the opposite of the first one, and is about believing that there’s nothing we can do! Foster sets out the argument, “If all human strivings end in moral bankruptcy, and if righteousness is a gracious gift from God (as the Bible clearly states) then isn’t it logical to conclude we should wait for God to come and transform us? Strangely enough, the answer is no. The analysis is correct – human striving is insufficient and righteousness is a gift from God – but the conclusion is faulty. Happily there is something we can do. We do not need to be hung on the horns of the dilemma of either human works or idleness. God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.”

Finally, Foster warns,”Knowing the ‘mechanics’ of the Disciplines doesn’t mean that we are practising them!” And I guess the same could be true of using one of our DDIT action templates. It’s the state of our hearts that matters when growing spiritually, more than the mechanics of a process.

Time to take your first steps?

Spiritual growth is the purpose of the Disciplines. Enacting them won’t produce the transformation but will place us where the change can occur and where our relationship and intimacy with God will grow.

Are you ready to Do It Today? Download one of our DDIT action templates and get started, now.

To share your thoughts on this topic follow this link: First steps with spiritual disciplines - beware tripping.