Four Outward Disciplines

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.

 

Welcome back!
Welcome
This is week two of a three-week series on the Spiritual Disiplines. If you missed last week’s post on the four inward Disciplines, you might want to read it here first.
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.
Outward Disciplines

Simplicity

Simplicity is an inward heart-attitude that results in an outward way of life. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of commands and exhortations regarding our attachment to money, possessions, and status. We are to be detached from the world because of our secure attachment to God. Simplicity “reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.” (Foster) This Discipline frees us to receive God’s provisions as a gift to be shared freely.
The central idea behind simplicity is to seek God’s kingdom first and trust that everything necessary will come in its proper turn.
Practicing simplicity first looks like recognizing that everything we have is a gift from God, that we are completely dependent upon Him. It looks like recognizing that only God can truly care for everything we have. Yes, we can lock the house when we leave, but we cannot keep the burglar from breaking a window. It finally looks like recognizing that all we have is to be available to others. “If our goods are not available to the community when it is clearly right and good, then they are stolen goods.” (Foster) Startling words. If, however, we trust that God is who Jesus says He is, then we can be free from fear and able to share freely.
Foster describes ten principles for the outward expression of simplicity. I will relate the first three to give you a start on practicing this Habit. First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Purchase cars and clothes for their utility rather than their fashion or prestige. Drive your cars and wear your clothes until they wear out and stop using them to impress people. Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. Soda and chocolate, television and social media are all examples of things that can be addictive. If there is anything you find you cannot do without, give it away. Simplicity is freedom, not slavery. Third, develop a habit of giving things away. If there is some possession to which you find yourself becoming too attached, give it to someone who needs it.

Solitude

Many of us have a fear of being alone that drives us to noise and crowds, podcasts and television. Solitude frees us from this fear by giving us an inner fulfillment wherever we are, whether by ourselves or in a mass of people. We know that we are never alone. When we practice the Discipline of solitude, we gain the ability to carry that peaceful solitude with us anywhere.
In solitude, we choose to be alone in order to hear the whisper of God. Jesus sought out solitude during His ministry as a regular practice. In order to practice solitude, we must also practice silence, which always involves an attitude of listening. When we have learned the Discipline of silence in our practice of solitude, we learn when to speak and when to be silent in the presence of others and thus gain control over that most powerful part of our body, the tongue.
Practically, begin to take advantage of the little moments of solitude all through your day. The few moments in bed before the rest of the family wakes up, the drive to and from work, the nap times of your children, a quick walk outside alone. Find a place in your home and dedicate it to solitude so that everyone in your family knows that when someone is in that place, they should be left alone. Spend time there with God. Take a whole evening and withdraw from company to listen to God. It is the Discipline of solitude that allows us to know Him more.

Submission

This is one that can be and has been horribly abused in our world. Rather than being a law we are required to follow, however, the Discipline of submission sets us free from the burden of needing to always have our own way. Submission allows us to value other people, to love them unconditionally, to be able to give up our rights for the good of others. It sets us free from anger and bitterness when someone doesn’t treat us the way we think they should treat us. In practicing the Habit of submission, we are following Jesus’ statement that “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Foster rightly points out that the limit of submission is the point at which it becomes destructive, such as a wife being asked to punish her child unreasonably or a child being asked to aid an adult in some unlawful practice.
We must yield ourselves first, of course, to God Himself and to the Word of God in Scripture. Next we submit to our family. Make allowances for each other; commit to listen well to and to share with those in your own home. We then submit to our neighbors as we meet them in our daily lives. Small acts of kindness are opportunities to practice submission: sharing a meal, shoveling their driveway, chatting with them about their day. We submit in many other ways to many other groups of people, and if you want to dig into this Habit a little deeper, go to Foster’s book.

Service

As Jesus demonstrated submission at the cross, He demonstrated service when He washed His disciples feet at the Last Supper. Anyone who has any authority over another person (which, I would argue, would be almost all of us) must practice the Discipline of service to those under our authority. Service comes from a relationship with the Triune God deep within us, which frees us from serving from self-righteousness. We listen to divine urgings without striving to impress. We find it impossible to distinguish between small and large service. We rest in the hiddenness of our service.
In our busy, daily lives, service often is made up of small things. This can be more difficult than large acts of service, as small acts require constant sacrifice. Taking a meal to a family who just had a baby, running an errand for a neighbor, even guarding the reputation of others by refusing to participate in gossip, these are all acts of service. We can sit and listen to a friend, invite someone into our home, or simply treat those we meet with courtesy.
There is a prayer that many people use that might be helpful as you begin to practice this Habit of service: “Lord Jesus, as it would please You bring me someone today whom I can serve.” Use this prayer as your own experiment with this Discipline!
I pray that these descriptions and ideas are helpful to you in this quest to know God more, to be transformed into His likeness. Join me next week for the last essay in this series, the “Corporate Disciplines”.

Four Inward Disciplines

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.

 

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.
Inward Disciplines

Meditation

Our world is full of busyness, full of hurrying, full of distraction. If we are to move deeper into the things of God, we must learn the Discipline of meditation. Foster describes Christian meditation as the ability to hear God’s voice and obey His word. We engage in specific meditation exercises at specific times, but for the aim of bringing that reality into all of life.
It is helpful to practice this Discipline every day, for it does take Discipline and practice to get better at focusing yourself. Find a quiet place, free from distractions. Find a position that is comfortable. Sometimes you can close your eyes; other times you can look at nature or other works of beauty.
Meditation on Scripture is a good way to begin. Take a verse, or a phrase, or even a single word, and dwell on it. Mull it over. Seek to hear the God who spoke that word speak to you. Use your imagination to place yourself in the scene.
There are more ways of meditating, and Foster describes them in detail. Most of all, be patient with yourself. You are swimming against the tide of culture. It is well worth it.

Prayer

Prayer is one of the non-negotiable Holy Habits.
Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us…The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. ~ Foster
In his book, Foster sticks with intercessory prayer (praying for others) while acknowledging that there are many other forms of prayer.
We must learn to pray. It does not come naturally. You are free to question, experiment, even fail. I must admit to you that intercessory prayer is a very difficult thing for me. I have seen many prayers go unanswered, at least in the way that I and those who prayed with me hoped, so I will admit that I do not understand this kind of prayer. I can only, in this space, summarize what Foster says and let you question and experiment and come to your own conclusions.
Once we understand that praying involves a learning process, we are able to continue to try without giving up. If our requests are not granted, we seek to discover what went wrong, whether we prayed wrongly, or something within us needs changing, or persistence is needed. Then we try again.
One of the most important pieces of learning to pray is listening. If we are not listening to God, are not attune to His Spirit, our prayers are vain repetitions. Foster says that as we listen, as we meditate, it is when we have an inner sense of compassion rise up, a compulsion to intercede, that we have a yes from God to pray for the person.
Pray simply. Pray while imagining a healed situation. Pray while imagining Jesus standing over the person and healing them. Every night I have begun to go in to each of my children while they are sleeping, place my hand on them, and ask Jesus to flow through my hand and heal any emotional trauma and hurt feeling they might have received that day. It is, I suppose, my current experiment.

Fasting

Our culture today is completely opposed to any form of self-denial. Fasting, therefore, unless done as a form of weight loss, seems obsolete. Jesus, however, seems to assume that those of us who follow Him will fast regularly (although it is not explicitly commanded). There are both full fasts (abstaining from all food and drink except for water) and partial fasts (a restriction of diet but not total abstention) mentioned in the Bible. Mostly fasting is private, except for a few times of public fasts for specific purposes.
Fasting must center on God. It must above all be God-initiated and God-focused. Secondary benefits must never replace God as the center. Foster writes that more than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is hugely helpful for us who want to be controlled by the Spirit alone. Fasting is a reminder that God alone sustains us.
Begin slowly if you have never fasted before. Try a partial 24 hour fast, perhaps from lunch to lunch, which would mean that you are only skipping two meals, and drink fruit juices. As you go about your normal day while fasting, pray and worship. Make every task sacred by the hunger you feel; allow your physical hunger to awaken you to the presence of God. After trying a partial fast several times, try a normal 24 hour fast. Drink only water, but lots of it. If you can, use your meal time for meditation and prayer.
If you feel that God is calling you to a longer fast after this, I would use the recommendations in Celebration of Discipline as a guideline.

Study

Lastly for this week is the Discipline of study. Paul says in Romans that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Discipline of study is the primary way in which we renew our minds in order to transform them. If we do not know the truth of God, if we do not know Him and His promises through the study of His Word, we cannot be changed to look like Him.
Foster writes of four steps of study. First is repetition, which regularly channels the mind in a specific direction. Second is concentration, which centers the mind and focuses the attention on what is being studied. Comprehension is the third, which brings us to a new level of insight and discernment. The last step is reflection, which defines the significance of what we are studying and allows us to see things from God’s perspective. All of this requires humility, the acknowledgement that we are only the student, dependent on God for understanding and insight.
Study is different from devotional reading. Study seeks to understand what the Scripture means; devotional reading seeks to apply what it means to me.
There are many methods of study. Take a major book of the Bible and read it straight through, noticing the structure and flow of the book. Jot down thoughts and areas of difficulty to return to later. Take a smaller book and read it through each day for a month. Write down what you find. Use Bible dictionaries and commentaries, many of which can be found online or at your library. Study some of the classics of Christian literature. Once again, Foster gives many more ideas for how to practice the Discipline of study which I do not have the space or inclination to repeat.
Still with me? These are all Disciplines that Foster categorized as “Inward Disciplines”. Next week I’ll summarize the “Outward Disciplines”. I pray you will meet me here.