Saturday, October 15, 2011

Spiritual Formation, Day 14

Now we move into talking about soul-training exercises, or spiritual disciplines. The best definition of spiritual disciplines I've ever heard comes from Dallas Willard: "A discipline is an activity within our power--something we CAN do--which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present CANNOT do by direct effort."

Did you get that? A discipline is something we can do right now, using our bodies, minds, and hearts in their present state, that will eventually enable us to do something that we cannot currently do.

This obliging creature landed right on my front door, as if it wanted to have its picture taken!

As we think about this, I want be sure that we understand a couple of things.

#1. The soul-training exercises, or spiritual disciplines, are not the point in and of themselves. They are the things that we can do so that eventually we will be able to do what we cannot currently do by direct effort. Here's an example: A coach might have basketball players run laps. Every day, they may run a lot of laps. But the point is not for the players to become good lap-runners. No, the coach wants the athletes to become good players, and he understands that part of being a good player is having the cardiovascular fitness and stamina to last through a game. He can't wave a magic wand and give his players stamina instantaneously, but he knows that they will develop stamina if they'll do what he says. So he prescribes the lap-running. The players might not like the lap-running, but they trust that the coach knows what he's doing, and they know that if they'll obey his instructions they can become good players. If all the athletes ever did was to become good lap-runners, they would have missed the point. Similarly, if we practice spiritual disciplines as if practicing the disciplines were the point, we might become good practitioners--but we want more than that. The point is for us to become Christlike. The disciplines are a means to that end.




#2. While the disciplines are not themselves the point, they are indeed things that we can do in order to become more like Christ. We cannot change our own hearts. That is the work of God. But we can do some things to put ourselves in the right position for being changed. Consider the caterpillar: it doesn't become a butterfly because it wishes it were a butterfly. And it doesn't change itself into a butterfly. It does, however, do what it CAN do--form a chrysalis--so that it's in the position for the metamorphosis to take place. The caterpillar might really, really want to be a butterfly, and it might wish that it could become a butterfly instantaneously. But that's not how it works. The metamorphosis is God's work, and it doesn't happen until the caterpillar submits to the process of change. Now, we're more complicated than caterpillars, but the same principle is true for us. We don't just wish we were Christlike and expect God to change us instantaneously. There are tried and true things that we can do so that we're living a life open to God's work in us, and that is what we'll discuss next.

Questions? Comments? I love to hear from you!

This post is part of a 31-day series on spiritual formation. To see all posts in this series, click here. Or click here to see all the bloggers participating in the 31-day challenge!

31 Days

1 comments:

Leslie said...

I am out of shape.
Perhaps God is preparing me to train for a marathon soon...

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