Category: Discipleship

The Word of God

The following conversation took place via text message with my daughter this afternoon. She’s taking her first Bible Survey class in high school, and she had some good questions for dear old dad. It is reproduced here with her permission (C = my daughter; R = me): C: Is the bible the word of God? […]

Why Practice Spiritual Disciplines?

While discipline often has a negative connotation of  punishment and rules, discipline can and should be associated with growth --especially when discussing spiritual disciplines.
Spiritual disciplines include meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration (I borrowed these from Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline Table of Contents).
The reasons why I practice spiritual disciplines isn't to outdo others, to earn my salvation or to get God to do me special favors. It's actually very simple:
I want Jesus.
Paul longed for the gospel. His desire led to the following statement: “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control (1 Corinthians 9:23, 27).” Elsewhere he says our worship is like a living death (Romans 12:1-2). Those verses describe sacrifice and hard work --a pursuit of God that is all-consuming.
No one forced me to go to college. I didn't have to get a degree, but I wanted it. Does that mean I enjoyed diagramming complicated sentences at midnight three nights a week? No. But I wanted the education, and thus I wanted to do the homework.
I don't always feel like praying, fasting, submitting, or helping others. But I want to know God better and thus I want to do those things. “The primary requirement [of practicing spiritual disciplines] is a longing after God” (Foster 2).
Counterintuitively, many times spiritual disciplines bring me joy. I don't know how to explain this paradox. I only know that I have experienced it. As Richard Foster says, “Fasting is feasting (55)!”
I love Jesus.
While it may be true that “doing things doesn't make me a better Christian”, doing things absolutely does affect my relationship with God.
Richard Foster argues that just like a farmer can't grow grain, we can't get to know God without God’s help. However, we can plant the seed and prepare the soil through spiritual disciplines (7).
If I never call or visit my friends, if I never am there for them when they are hurting, then eventually we will drift away from each other. Similarly, choosing to hang out with God and get to know Him shows where my priorities are. It shows Who I love.
I need Jesus.
The Pharisees thought doing the right things would bring them closer to God. Jesus said that was true, but they were missing the heart (Mark 7:1-15; Matthew 5:21-37; 23:23).
The Romans thought that believing the right things exempted them from doing. Paul disagreed (Romans 6).
God calls me to love Him with all of me --my heart, mind, emotions, will and strength (Luke 10:27). I am a holistic being. What I love affects what I do (John 14:15, 23). What I do affects what I love (John 15:10). What I believe affects what I do (Colossians 2:4, 16-19). What I do and experience affects me spiritually (Romans 12:1; Philippians 3:10). It's all connected.
I need God to touch every single part of me. If not, I'm missing out. My relationship with God is unbalanced and skewed. I'm in danger of limiting God to only one aspect of my life.
I love Him. I want Him. I need Him.
Please don't mistake passion for arrogance, legalism or an optional type of spirituality. Pursue Christ because He is worth it.
Work Cited:
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.

Learning Language a Spiritual Discipline

We were invited by Swiss friends to eat in an exclusive restaurant during our last weekend in Switzerland. As we got settled around the table, my friend asked me: “Are you comfortable with speaking Swiss German, or should we speak English?”

There were four of us at the table and I was the only native speaker of English. All the others were native speakers of Swiss German. Even though the others could speak English, we were in Switzerland. Why would I force three others to struggle to accommodate me? 

Being present during a table conversation in Swiss German
Truth be told, the lazy side of me wanted to speak English. Each speaker at the table had a slightly different dialect of Swiss German, and one of them spoke so rapidly I had to strain to catch every nuance.

Two days later, I was at a church service. The worship leader spoke in High German, the music director in the dialect of Bern, and the sermon was given in a mixture of High German and the dialect of Zürich. The Bible was read or quoted in High German, some of the songs were sung in High German and some in the Swiss dialect. I had to concentrate very carefully to worship and to understand.

Many years ago, in a seminary class, Lawrence Yoder remarked offhandedly, “Learning another language is a spiritual discipline.” He didn’t explain what he meant; he just let it hang in the air for us to try to make sense of it. As a teacher of languages for more than 35 years, that statement resonated with me, even if I couldn’t explain why.

The two recent experiences that I describe above may begin to give an indication of what he meant. In the first instance, my attention was completely focused on what my friends were saying. My mind was not wondering off to other places nor was I trying to form an answer before they finished speaking. I was fully present to them. It was “deep listening,” a practice so infrequently used in our everyday conversations that seminars and books have arisen to teach this practice. Being fully present to the other recognizes their worth as someone made in the “image and likeness of God.” It is a spiritual discipline. 

In the second example, my attention was wholly focused on every part of the worship service. So often when I am in an English service, my mind wonders in and out of what’s going on. When I’m listening in English, I take my ability to understand everything for granted. In contrast, when I’m listening to a worship service in a language other than my native tongue, I need to be much more attentive. I can’t take my understanding everything for granted. This attentiveness brings me closer to the essence of the service and to hearing God’s message. Much writing on spirituality focuses on attentiveness and awareness. Learning another language facilitates this need to be attentive and present. They are spiritual disciplines.

Our culture is one of much distraction by so many different media and personal obsessions. Because of these distractions, it is difficult to be totally preset and totally aware. They clog our ears and blind our eyes. Yet these are spiritual qualities that even secular writers affirm. Jesus recognizes our need to be attentive and present to when he explains why he teaches in parables: “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand’” (Matt. 13:13).

While we should develop awareness and presence in whatever our cultural or linguistic circumstances, learning another language helps us to expedite developing such qualities. Learning another language is a spiritual discipline.

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