Below, I’ve listed some words. Take a moment to reflect on what comes to mind when you read them. What words, thoughts, and emotions do you experience? What has been your experience with each of these?
What came to mind as you were reading the list above? Depending on your upbringing and the faith/church tradition you grew up in, your response to those words may vary greatly from mine or the person sitting beside you.
I recently finished a book called Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster, which explores how different spiritual practices or disciplines can help shape our faith, moving us toward a deeper love for Jesus.
I love how the author describes such disciplines:
The disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us. (p.7)
I find this to be such a beautiful sentiment: that our spiritual transformation takes place as we simply place ourselves before God. When I look at the above list of spiritual practices, admittedly there are some that I thought I knew about, some I had incorrect conclusions about, and some I had never given much consideration to.
For example, prayer, Scripture study, or worship – all three are practices that I’ve had a lot of experience with, so before reading about each of those, I thought I probably didn’t have much more to learn. Presumptuous, I know. Yet as I was reading Foster’s words, I realized that there is still so much more that I can explore and experience in worship, Scripture study, and prayer.
One chapter that I really appreciated was the chapter on submission. For too long I’ve only ever associated submission as it pertains to the marital dynamic; however, that’s not the book’s focus. Instead, Foster shows the reality that we are all called to submit to Christ and to each other. Here are just a couple of thoughts that made me stop, pause and reflect:
What freedom corresponds to submission? It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. (p.111)
In submission we are at last free to value other people. (p.112)
Our happiness is not dependent on getting what we want. (p.113)
For too long when I heard the word submission, a part of my heart would get riled up. As a woman who would love to get married one day, the concept of submission has irked me at times. Yet this chapter illuminated for me the broader implications of submission and how beautiful it can be. The act of submission is important in all types of relationships, and demonstrates a character shaped by humility and trust in God’s goodness.
My upbringing, my church background, and my experiences with society have all shaped my view of submission. Foster’s chapter on submission provided a new way for me to understand how the discipline of intentional submission helps form my character into the likeness of Christ.
Is there a discipline listed above that you’ve made assumptions about or view negatively? Which one? Why? What has formed your views?
Other disciplines in the list above that I had never considered before include simplicity, guidance, and celebration.
Celebration as a spiritual discipline? Really? We see throughout the Bible that celebration was a part of the rhythms of life God wanted for his people. When establishing the Israelites in the Promised Land, there were requirements to have festivals throughout the year (Leviticus 23 is a great description of some of those festivals). Even Jesus went to a wedding and celebrated with his friends at the beginning of John 2. Later on in John 12 before he was crucified, we read that he was in Bethany to celebrate Passover.
I love this idea about celebration that Foster describes:
Without the joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. (p. 191)
Seems harsh, doesn’t it? Yet this invitation to celebrate also resonates with me. It’s so easy for me to become legalistic. My time reading God’s Word can easily become another item to check off in a to-do list, not the joyful opportunity to spend time with my Saviour. The discipline of confession can easily become filled with fear and shame, rather than humility, courage and freedom. Rather than celebrating, I often see disciplines as a chore (and personally, I’m not a huge fan of those).
Looking at that list of words again, it can feel overwhelming. The thought of attempting to add all these things into your life can feel daunting. Faith can become performance-based rather than grace-based in the blink of an eye, and if you’re like me, when life gets too overwhelming, I will often just freeze and stop doing anything.
So how do we find this balance between making sure to prioritize creating space for God to transform us while simultaneously not turning the practice of spiritual disciplines into another chore? How do we embrace the hope of the gospel while pursuing a relationship with Jesus and taking responsibility for our part in the relationship?
Ephesians 2 is a great place to start, to remind us of where we were but also where we are now. We were of the world, striving but ultimately failing in life. Reeking of death-bearing tools in our attempts to make our relationship with God right. But then God intervened. God, so rich in mercy and love, didn’t just leave us where we were. He sent Jesus so that we could stop the striving and instead enjoy a relationship with him. We can’t take credit for this, it’s a gift from God.
What does this all mean then? It means that while creating space for regular practice of various spiritual disciplines deepens our relationship with God, that’s not what defines our relationship with God. It means that we can learn and apply spiritual disciplines from a place of freedom, knowing that these practices do not cause God to accept us any more than he already does. We can do them from a place of desiring to grow closer to our heavenly Father who already loves and accepts us.
We can learn and apply spiritual disciplines from a place of freedom, knowing that these practices do not cause God to accept us any more than he already does.
It means that there is grace available when you fail, because at some point you will.
For a moment you’ll fall back into the trap of the world, and the tools meant to help will be forgotten or become death-bearers rather than life-givers. But God will show up again; as you confess, he’ll forgive. There is mercy and grace still available to you. We can take steps towards Jesus through these disciplines, knowing we’ll do them imperfectly, because Jesus has gone before us.
Where in your life are you forgetting about grace? Where are you striving or trying to make your relationship right with God, even in good, godly things?
Take a moment now and read over that list of spiritual disciplines again:
Is there a spiritual discipline you’d like to learn more about? Is there one that you’d like to implement more to form your faith? How are you going to allow God to continue to transform you?
The copy of the book I have been referencing is:
Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline – Special Anniversary Edition. United States of America: HarperOne, 2018.
[Editor’s Note: This article belongs to our series on “What forms us?” Of course, it’s ultimately God who shapes us toward Christ-likeness. But we hope these reflections encourage awareness and inspire intentionality in how we live. For more articles in this series, click the #whatformsus tag.]