“Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.” GK Chesterton
We are saved by grace alone, however, grace does not mean that sufficient strength and insight will be automatically infused into our being in the moment of need.
Why do faithful church members sometimes not grow to maturity in Christ? We have somehow encouraged a separation of our faith from everyday life.
An individuals character is nothing but the pattern of habitual ways in which that person comports his body.
What are the disciplines for the spiritual life? They are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken, to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order. They enable us more and more to live in power that is, strictly speaking, beyond us, deriving from the spiritual realm itself, as we “yield ourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God,” as Romans 6:13 puts it.
One must train as well as try. An athlete may have all the enthusiasm in the world; he may talk a good game. But talk will not win the race. Zeal without knowledge or without appropriate practice is never enough. Plus, one must train wisely as well as intensely for spiritual attainment.
Solitude is the most radical of the disciplines for life in the spirit. In penal institutions, solitary confinement is used to break the strongest of wills. It is capable of this because it excludes interaction with others upon which fallen human personality completely depends.
Our modern religious context assures us that such drastic action as we see in Jesus and Paul is not necessary for our Christianity—may not even be useful, may even be harmful. In any case, it certainly will be upsetting to those around us and especially to our religious associates, who often have no intention of changing their lives in such a radical way.
Paul was a summa cum laude graduate of the school of self-denial, and he knew from experience what he was talking about.
In CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, Uncle Screwtape reproaches the apprentice demon, Wormwood, for permitting his “patient” to become a Christian. Nevertheless, he says, “There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the enemy’s camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favor.” Uncle Screwtape has deep insight into the psychology of redemption. If a convert’s habits remain the same they will realize little of the life in Christ.
Through spiritual disciplines I become able heartily to bless those who curse me, pray without ceasing, to be at peace when not given credit for good deeds I’ve done, or to master the evil that comes my way, it is because my disciplinary activities have inwardly poised me for more and more interaction with the powers of the living God and his Kingdom. Such is the potential we tap into when we use the disciplines.
Disciplines of Abstinence: Solitude, Silence, Fasting, Frugality, Chastity, Secrecy, Sacrifice.
Disciplines of Engagement: Study, Worship, Celebration, Service, Prayer, Fellowship, Confession, Submission.
The 7 deadly sins recognized throughout church history are pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lasciviousness.
Fasting: It will certainly prove humiliating to us, as it reveals to us how much our peace depends upon the pleasures of eating.
Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food.
Fasting is one of the more important ways of practicing that self-denial required of everyone who would follow Christ (Matt 16:24).
In frugality we abstain from using money or goods at our disposal in ways that merely gratify our desires or our hunger for status, glamour, or luxury. Practicing frugality means we stay within the bounds of what general good judgment would designate as necessary for the kind of life to which God has led us.
In the discipline of secrecy—we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known. We may even take steps to prevent them from being known, if it doesn’t involve deceit. To help us lose or tame the hunger for fame, justification, or just the mere attention of others, we will often need the help of grace. But as we practice this discipline, we learn to love to be unknown and even to accept misunderstanding without the loss of our peace, joy or purpose.
One of the greatest fallacies of our faith, and actually one of the greatest acts of unbelief, is the thought that our spiritual acts and virtues need to be advertised to be known.
Secrecy rightly practiced enables us to place our public relations department entirely in the hands of God, who lit our candles so we could be the light of the world, not so we could hide under a bushel (Matt. 5:14-16). We allow him to decide when our deeds will be known and when our light will be noticed.
Secrecy at its best teaches love and humility before God and others. And that love and humility encourages us to see our associates in the best possible light, even to the point of our hoping they will do better and appear better than us.
The disciplines of abstinence must be counterbalanced and supplemented by disciplines of engagement. Abstinence and engagement are the outbreathing and inbreathing of our spritual lives, and we require disciplines for both movements. Roughly speaking, the disciplines of abstinence counteract tendencies to sins of commission, and the disciplines of engagement counteract tendencies to sins of omission.
Christians without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.
The more we pray, the more we think to pray, and as we see the results of prayer—the responses of our Father to our requests—our confidence in God’s power spills over into other areas of our life.
The “open secret” of many “Bible believing” churches is that a vanishingly small percentage of those talking about prayer and Bible reading are actually doing what they are talking about. They have not been shown how to change their life as a whole, permeating it with appropriate disciplines, so that prayer and Bible reading will be spiritually successful.
Confession is a discipline that functions within fellowship. In it we let trusted others know our deepest weaknesses and failures. This will nourish our faith in God’s provision for our needs through his people, our sense of being loved, and our humility before our brothers and sisters.
The highest level of fellowship—involving humility, complete honesty, transparency, and at times confession and restitution—is sustained by the discipline of submission.
Should we be poor? Some Christians are haunted by the more radical thought that their service to God would be better if they were poor—or at least if they owned nothing beyond what is required to meet their day to day needs. They are troubled by the idea that the very possession of surplus of goods or money is evil.
Being poor is one of the poorest of ways to help the poor. I have yet to find anyone who was the better person simply for being poor.
Whoever cannot have riches without worshipping them above God should get rid of them, if that will enable him to trust and serve God rightly. If it does not enable them to do that, then there well may be no point at all in getting rid of the riches.
“To be without desire is a mark of poverty.” Bonhoeffer
In the spiritual life, simplicity is not opposed to complexity, and poverty is not opposed to possessions. In fact, as simplicity makes great complexity bearable, so poverty as Bonhoeffer explains it—freedom from desire—makes possessions safe and fruitful for the glory of God.
Our problem is not primarily with how we see the poor, but with how we see ourselves. If we still think and convey by our behavior that in some way we are fundamentally different and better as persons from the man sleeping in the discarded boxes in the alley, we have not been brought with clear eyes to the foot of the cross, seeing our own neediness in the light of it. We have not looked closely at the lengths to which God had to go to reach us. We have not learned to live always and thankfully in the cross’s shadow. From that vantage point alone is our solidarity with the destitute to be realized.
One hardly ever finds a church or a Christian free from knee-jerk favoritism toward those who are impressive in the world’s scale of values. And it is heartbreaking to behold. The most biblical of churches are permeated with favoritism toward the rich and comfortable, the beautiful and famous—or at least toward “our kind of people”. Yet, many will insist, this is necessary for the advancement of the cause of Christ. We cannot sustain our programs, we are told, unless we can attract and hold the right kinds of people. These people seem to have forgotten that the church’s business is to make the right kind of people out of the wrong kind. More often than not the wrong kind in God’s eyes are precisely the “right” kind by the world’s standards—or even “our kind”.
We must change from within (Metanoia). And that is what most of us truly want. The repentance in which we pine for our life and world to really be different, the authentic metanoia which Christ opens us to in his gospel (Mark 1:15, 6:12), comes upon us as we are given a vision of the majesty, holiness, and goodness of God.
Holiness is, fundamentally, otherness or separateness from the ordinary realm of human existence in which we believe we know what we are doing and what is going on.
Every leader must ask himself: How can I justify not leading my people into the practice of disciplines for the spiritual life that would enable them to reign in their lives by Christ?
Ministers pay far too much attention to people who do not come to services. Those people should, generally, be given exactly that disregard by the pastor they give to Christ. The Christian leader has something much more important to do than pursue the godless. The leader’s task is to equip saints until they are like Christ (Eph 4:12).
If those in the churches really are enjoying fullness of life, evangelism will be unstoppable and largely automatic.
For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. Churches are filled with “undiscipled disciples”.