To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.
This is the last of a three-week series on the Spiritual Disiplines. If you missed the previous two posts, you can read about the Four Inward Disciplines here and the Four Outward Disciplines here.
I’m going to post my introduction and disclaimers again, so if you read those last week, feel free to skip ahead:
Just before Advent I did a series on the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines, or Holy Habits, in our spiritual formation. I introduced the idea of abiding in Jesus and how the Disciplines help us to do that, I wrote of why it is important to abide in Jesus in our daily lives here and here, and I articulated how abiding in our daily lives helps us when the storms come here and here.
But what are these Holy Habits? If they truly are essential to our becoming like Jesus, how do we weave them all through our days so that we are awakened to the promised presence of God in our lives?
I’m going to begin with a couple of disclaimers.
First, this is a very brief overview. If you want to go more in depth (and I pray that you do!), I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Most of the ideas in these next three posts on some specific Disciplines are from his seminal book, and he writes with much more wisdom and knowledge than I.
Second, you should not try to cram all of the Disciplines into your life at once. Try one or two at a time and find what fits best with your personality, with the way God created you. Once you are comfortable with a few, stretch yourself once in a while and try one that challenges you.
Now that I have dispensed with those, I hope you will stay with me as I take the next three weeks to briefly describe several of the Disciplines. These posts will be meaty, and I probably will not try to weave art throughout as is my wont. After these three weeks, I will return to my normal style. There are, of course, more Spiritual Disciplines than those I will write about. These Holy Habits are simply the things that Jesus did while walking through this life. These Spiritual Disciplines are our way of imitating Christ.
Let us leave surface living to move into the depths of God.
Because of the cross of Jesus, the Discipline of confession is a means of healing and transforming the inner spirit. Part of what makes confession difficult is that we tend to view other believers as saints rather than as sinners. We think that everyone else is much closer to maturity and we are alone in our sinful state. When we believe this in our inner being, we hide our true selves from each other. If, however, we can trust that all are in the same situation, we are freed to “hear the unconditional call of God’s love and to confess our needs openly before our brothers and sisters…In acts of mutual confession we release the power that heals. Our humanity is no longer denied, but transformed.” (Foster)
Confession can be done in a formal manner. After the confession, the one hearing the confession speaks a word of Scripture, such as “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1.9). Then the one confessing is told in clear, authoritative words that he is forgiven and set free from his sin in the name of Christ.
Confession can also be done very informally. You can, of course, confess to the one you have wronged. You can also pray over your life and write down sins that God brings to your mind, then take that list to a trusted friend (choose carefully one with spiritual maturity, wisdom, and the ability to keep a confidence) and confess those things to them. The friend should then tear up your paper as a symbol of absolution and pray a prayer of healing over you.
When you make a confession, you should begin by inviting God to examine your conscience and show you areas that need His forgiving. Be sure to be specific rather than making generalized confessions. Sorrow is also necessary to a confession. Not necessarily the emotion, although that might be involved, but a deep regret at having wounded the heart of the Father. One last component is a resolution to avoid sin. “In the Discipline of confession we ask God to give us a yearning for holy living, a hatred for unholy living.” (Foster)
Foster makes one last note on confession: that we should be sure there is an end to it. Rather than falling into a permanent habit of self-condemnation, confession should end in joy and the celebration in the forgiveness of sins.
To worship is “to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community.” (Foster) It is the response to the love of God. It is how we are a priesthood of believers, reflecting the praise of creation back to the Creator.
Part of worship is preparation, going through your day with a sense of expectancy that God is there and that you will see His presence. Try to spend every moment aware of God, speaking with Him, thanking Him, thinking of Him. When you have heard God speak in many ways throughout your everyday life, you will expect Him to speak to you in worship as well. When you have allowed God to be in charge of your everyday life, you will expect Him to be in charge of your worship as well. Be sure to worship in private so that when you enter the corporate worship service you are ready with a holy expectancy.
In his book, Foster gives a few steps to help in the experience of worship. First, learn to practice the presence of God daily. Try to pray without ceasing, and be sure to have personal times of worship and Bible study and confession. Second, have many different experiences of worship. Worship alone, worship in small groups, and worship in large gatherings. Third, find ways to really prepare for the gathered experience of worship. Go to bed early the night before, arrive early to pray over the leaders and those seated near you, pray for God to help you let go of distractions. Foster gives four other steps that I do not have the space to repeat here, but those I mentioned should help get you started.
I long to be a Spirit-led person, and I imagine that you do as well. Yet even if I become directly guided by the Spirit, this will never be sufficient until there is also a knowledge of the active leading of the Spirit together. There is an emphasis in our culture on individualism that does not exist in Scripture when it speaks of the people of God. So many stories in the Bible speak of God leading people as a people, not as individuals.
When you feel the Spirit leading you in a direction, ask a few trusted friends to pray with you and seek the will of God together with you. When you have trouble sensing the direction in which God wants you to move, gather a group of people who know you well, have spiritual maturity, and are able to be honest with you, and let them pray over you.
There are many churches that practice Spirit-directed unity. Issues are approached with the understanding that the mind of the Spirit can be known, so the church gathers to pray and talk. No decision is made until all of the members are of one mind. Sometimes this takes a long time of patient waiting and praying, but they keep at it until all sense the same direction from the Spirit. It is a beautiful picture of how Christians are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3).
Jesus entered this world in celebration (“I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be for all people.”) and left this world giving His joy to His disciples (“These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”). “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong…We cannot continue long in anything without it.” (Foster) All of the Holy Habits should be characterized by thanksgiving and joy. Foster says that he believes joy is the motor of the Disciplines, that without joyous celebration to infuse the others, we will sooner or later abandon them.
Joy is found in daily obedience to Christ. Without obedience working itself into the ordinary fabric of our lives, our celebrating is empty. When we obey, however, when our families are filled with love and service toward one another, we all are filled with joy and celebration.
Paul tells us in Philippians to rejoice always by first having no worry for anything, just as Jesus told us. We are to trust that God truly has the ability to care for our needs. Paul then tells us that we are to speak with God in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. We can rely on God to provide for us and therefore we can live in a spirit of celebration. He also, though, tells us to set our minds on all that is good in life. When we determine to dwell on the excellent and the lovely, when we fill our lives with simple good things and constantly thank God for them, we will be full of joy.
This decision takes an act of will, which is why celebration is a Discipline. It is not something that just appears in our hearts, but the result of a conscious way of thinking and living. How do we celebrate? Sing, dance, shout! Make noise in worship and adoration. Laugh. Enjoy clever puns and good comedy. Savor the creative gift of imagination, both in ourselves and in others. Delight in the arts: sculptures, paintings, music, plays, all of these are gifts. Make family events and holidays into times of celebration and thanksgiving.
We made it!
We’ve reached the end of this series on the Spiritual Disciplines. Next week I won’t be so lengthy, I promise! I hope, though, that some of this was helpful to you. I pray that you will choose one or two of these to begin experimenting with. These are the practices that, when made into habit, will allow the Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ. I will leave you with one last quote from Foster to sum it all up:
We have seen how meditation heightens our spiritual sensitivity which, in turn, leads us into prayer. Very soon we discover that prayer involves fasting as an accompanying means. Informed by these three Disciplines, we can effectively move into study which gives us discernment about ourselves and the world in which we live. Through simplicity we live with others in integrity. Solitude allows us to be genuinely present to people when we are with them. Through submission we live with others without manipulation, and through service we are a blessing to them. Confession frees us from ourselves and releases us to worship. Worship opens the door to guidance. All of the Disciplines freely exercised bring forth the doxology of celebration. ~ Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline