Sunday, October 16, 2011

Spiritual Formation: Day 15

It bears repeating: spiritual disciplines or soul-training exercises are a means to an end. Our goal is to become like Jesus, not to be good at exercises.




It would be very difficult to talk about the spiritual disciplines without referring to one of the best and most comprehensive books ever written on the subject. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster was first published in 1978, and it remains a most trustworthy guide to understanding and practicing the disciplines.

Before we talk about specific exercises, we need to consider what Richard writes in the first chapter of Celebration of Discipline. He calls the disciplines the "door to liberation." Read these words of his, as fresh today as when they were first penned.

Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

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. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world. John Woolman counsels, "It is good for thee to dwell deep, that thou mayest feel and understand the spirits of people (The Journal of John Woolman, Citadel Press, 1972).

We must not be led to believe that the disciplines are only for spiritual giants and hence beyond our reach, or only for contemplatives who devote all their time to prayer and meditation. Far from it. . .

Nor should we think of the spiritual disciplines as some dull drudgery aimed at exterminating laughter from the face of the earth. Joy is the keynote of all the disciplines. The purpose of the disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.

Freedom from the slavery of self-interest and fear? That sounds like a good state of affairs to me. But trying to attain that freedom through our own efforts is doomed to fail. Listen again to Richard:

When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God's work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God: it is a grace that is given. . . God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.

The apostle Paul says, "He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:8). Paul's analogy is instructive. A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain. That is the way it is with the spiritual disciplines--they are a way of sowing to the Spirit. The disciplines are God's way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. . . They are God's means of grace.

**There's something important I want to say here about the authors I'm quoting in this series. As you know, we learn about Jesus mostly from reading the Bible. Christians throughout the history of the church have done the same thing, and many of them have developed rich insights into the life of Christ. So from our 21st century vantage point we have both the Bible (always our primary guide) as well as the writings of Christians throughout the centuries. We are blessed to have such a wealth of material at our disposal!

I would recommend one test for any materials that you might use to guide you in your walk. Since our desire is to become like Jesus, I would recommend materials written by people who have walked that path--not people who are concerned simply with studying Jesus or even mimicking his actions. We want our hearts to be changed, and our best guides are those who have experienced or are experiencing that kind of heart-change in their own lives. The authors I'll recommend in this series are all people who are deeply committed to Jesus.**


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 need freedom from self-interest and fear, but it is so easy to just stay in this place.
Lord, I am committed to you, but I try to make my own way sometimes. Heck, most of the time. Please free me from myself. Show me grace. Amen.

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