Volume. XXXI, No. 47
Sunday, 21 May 2017


Spiritual Disciplines - Part 1


1) What are Spiritual Disciplines? Spiritual Disciplines are means by which individuals or communities can practice their faith. They are tools by which Christians seek to know God and yield to the Holy Spirits sanctifying power. It is one of the ways to open ourselves up to the Holy Spirits work of sanctification. In Hebrews 12:11, the word translated chastening can also be translated as discipline. In this context it means to correct. When we do wrong or sin, we can expect to be corrected, to be disciplined by God because He loves us. This discipline and correction is external to us and inflicted upon us. What about self-discipline? When we have a weight problem, we discipline ourselves to avoid or limit the intake of certain foods or we discipline ourselves to exercise. This is internal to us but, it is still a form of correction and it certainly is not enjoyable. Spiritual disciplines are actually a form of self-discipline, self-correction, to help us to achieve a goal. As with the weight problem, we abstain from certain foods or exercise more to lose weight. The abstinence and exercise is to help us to achieve our goal of losing weight. 2) Why do we practice Spiritual Disciplines? 1 Tim 4:7b tells us to exercise thyself rather unto godliness it admonishes us to practice, to train ourselves to godliness. Godliness is our goal when we practice these spiritual disciplines; we must know that these disciplines are a means to an end and not the end itself. The end that we want to achieve while practicing these spiritual disciplines is godliness. It is for us to draw closer to God and grow in moment-by-moment dependence on Him. We can safely say that athletes are some of the most disciplined people well find. Their disciplined lifestyle, the food they eat, the many hours of practice and the things that they abstain from. These are all done for the sake of the race. So, what is Paul telling us with his athletic imagery in Hebrews 12:1? Is he telling us to discipline ourselves like the athletes so that we can prepare ourselves for this race? Of course, we know that this race has already been won but, do we want to run this spiritual race with an unhealthy spirit? We know how hard it is to run if our physical body is not prepared for it. I believe it is safe to say that we would all want to have an easier time in this race and want to have a healthy spirit to run it. Heb 12:1: discipline helps us to lay aside every weight, it extricates us from our burdens and gives us freedom. Heb 12:12 and 13: discipline helps us to lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. It builds fortitude in us; as physical exercise helps to strengthen our body, spiritual discipline helps to strengthen our spiritual muscles. Heb 12:2: discipline helps us to look unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. It gives us focus, it directs us toward Christ. Spiritual Disciplines will give us Freedom, Fortitude and Focus. 3) What are the pitfalls of Spiritual Disciplines? Legalism and Passivity. Kent Hughes wrote that For many, spiritual discipline means putting oneself back under the Law with a series of draconian rules which no one can live up to. Legalism reduces everything into a list of do's and donts which become an exercise in self-sufficiency. Theres a difference between legalism and discipline. The difference is in the motivation. Legalism says, I will do this thing to gain merit from God while discipline says, I will do this thing because I love God and want to please Him. It is very similar to what James was referring to in James 2:18, shew me thy faith without thy works and I will show you my faith by my works. The works is the outpouring of his faith and love for God. Just as discipline is a means to draw us closer to God because we want to be closer to God. Passivity is the wait and see attitude. To avoid the appearance of earning merit, this approach promotes letting go and waiting for the Spirit to move before taking any action. This approach can be seen many times by those who were asked to do something and they would give the response Ill pray about it. Dallas Willard notes that Faith is not opposed to knowledge, it is opposed to sight. And grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. Having seen something, youll no longer need to have faith to believe but, learning and knowing more about it does not diminish the faith to believe. By the same token, grace does not mean you do not work, only that grace does not allow the work to earn merits. We practice this because it pleases God to see us doing it and not because we want to earn Gods approval. 4) What are the different Spiritual Disciplines? As we go on to look at the different spiritual disciplines, we need to keep in mind that spiritual discipline is akin to spiritual medicine. We cannot open the medicine cabinet and take every pill in sight. We need to choose the right medicine that best suits our particular illness. The same goes for spiritual discipline; we need to choose the one that best fulfils our spiritual needs and not try to practice all of them at the same time. When we study the different spiritual disciplines, ask the Holy Spirit to guide and show us where to begin. We will be looking at eight Spiritual Disciplines: Abstinence, Simplicity, Stillness, Meditation, Prayer, Reticence, Stability and Worship. For every one of these disciplines, well be looking at what they are, why we would want to practice them, what they look like in practice, what some of the indicators are that we might need this discipline and how we can start. Of course, Spiritual Disciplines are not limited to these eight, there are many others, like Study, Service, Confession, Guidance and others. We may take a look at some of these if we have the time. To be continued Deacon Kevin Low

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