I am thankful for the opportunity to have been able to spend this semester investigating the spiritual disciplines. This semester has allowed time for regular self – reflection. Through this time of reflection and journaling, I have been made aware of areas in my life that need work. The purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to help me conform more to the image of Christ. I do not believe that a person will ever be able to master the spiritual disciplines but I believe they can become more disciplined in their walk with Christ through the practice of these disciplines. This paper is a summary of my journey through these spiritual disciplines.
Before this class, I was not really aware that meditation was a spiritual discipline. I am glad to know that spiritual meditation is filling your mind with spiritual things and not emptying your mind which is based on worldly meditation. Being that meditation is new to me. I believe that I need more practice with it before I am comfortable with it. I know what it means to contemplate something or focus your thoughts on something but I never tied focus or contemplation to meditation. I want to get better at this practice because I do believe that I would be more in a position to hear from God. I like the quote that Foster has on page 21, “Christian meditation leads us to the inner wholeness necessary to give ourselves to God freely.” I want to get better at this because meditation will strengthen me through my process of sanctification.
I am a big believer that we can never pray enough. I have been encouraged by Joshua who prayed and asked God to make the sun stand still. Joshua prayed dangerous prayers. I think out of force of habit that I have made a habit of praying “safe prayers.” I do pray for forgiveness when convicted of a sin in my life; but I am not sure that I have prayed what I would consider God – sized prayers. Praying involves God changing my heart and transforming my passions and desires into His passions and desires. Then, when I pray, my prayers are conformed more to what God would have me to pray. I have been praying lately for God to stretch me, break me, ruin me, challenge me, and put me in situations that stretch my faith and dependence on Him to make me more conformed to Christ’s image. I have been praying that God would make me a better husband, dad, and pastor. I believe that God wants me to pray with more boldness and confidence in Him. I should pray prayers that are so huge that only God can accomplish what I am asking for in prayer. I also believe that part of prayer has to do with listening. Prayer is not just a one way street. If I am the one doing all the talking, then I am not giving God the opportunity to tell me what I need to hear. Through the discipline of prayer, I have been reminded that my prayers should always be prayed in accordance with God’s will. I am also trying to always have a mind of prayer. I want to live in such a way as to keep the line of communication open between me and God. I want to be able to pray without ceasing. The newest thing that has been presented to me has been the thought of praying blessings over children. I am going to start praying blessings over my son. I believe that prayer will have a dramatic effect on his life.
Other than meditation, fasting is my biggest challenge. I know how to fast, I just tend to make excuses or try to justify some need of breaking the fast before it needs to be broken. I do not mind denying myself of food for a certain amount of time so that I may devote myself to seeking after God. I have challenged myself to practice this discipline more. I remember that Chuck said something in class that has stuck with me. He said that it is possible to become so good at a certain discipline that we do it more out of pride than we do out of discipline. I realize that I am not that disciplined in this area. I have succeeded in completing a one meal or two meal fast over a couple days. My next challenge will be to increase that to a 24 hour fast and then to 36, 48 and so on based on where God leads me in this area.
The discipline of study feeds my inner geek. Foster says on page 63, “Study is a specific kind of experience in which through careful attention to reality the mind is enabled to move in a certain direction. Remember, the mind will always take on an order conforming to the order upon which it concentrates.” I believe that statement is true. I believe that what I study is just as important as how I study it. My actions, desires, passions, decisions, and habits are all formed out of my thoughts. What I study helps to shape those thoughts. Study is most likely the most efficient way of renewing the mind. I desire to be changed. I desire for God to purge me of all things that do not conform me to the image of Christ. I believe that the discipline of study will open me to learn new things as well as show me things in my life that need to be changed. Studying Scripture is heavy on interpretation and light on application. Application is tied directly to devotional reading but not to the discipline of study. I like Foster’s story of his personal retreats of where he is able to go somewhere for the sole purpose of reading and studying. I wish I had more opportunities to be able to go off on a spiritual retreat for that purpose. I also believe that prayer and journaling coincide with study. We can ask God to help us interpret what we are studying and we can journal what we learn as well as write down questions that may arise through the course of our study. I plan on starting a new study through books of the Bible. I want to study books that I have never really read through. The discipline of study will help me to show myself approved. Study will require a little more effort on my part. This will require me to turn off the TV and occasionally go off by myself so I may devote myself to the study of Scripture.
I am blessed to have a wife that is not concerned with “keeping up with the Jones’.” We have tried to simplify our life as much as possible. We want our lives to be defined by how we lived for Christ and not by the accumulation of stuff. We have chosen to use what we have until it has lost its usefulness and we try to keep our clothes until they are no longer wearable. We have gotten rid of our house phone because we believed we did not need both a house phone and cell phones. The discipline of simplicity is best represented by Luke 14:33, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” The words of Jesus continue to echo in my brain. I am challenged to live a life that shows that I am more concerned with the things of God then I am trying to find happiness in temporary pursuits.
Before reading this chapter, I have only thought of solitude in terms of outward solitude. I made solitude a place. It was a time of peace and quiet. It was a place that had virtually no distractions. Little did I know that I was only practicing half of the discipline of solitude. Foster presents an interesting idea on inward solitude. I understand now that inward solitude is a state of mind and a state of the heart. There can be on the inside, a deep silence or peace. The discipline of solitude can easily be paired with another discipline such as study or prayer. Solitude is perfect for self-examination and for listening to hear from God. I still have disagreements with Foster on his section about the dark night of the soul. I do not understand how one can be so deep into the dark night of the soul that no music or sermon can have an effect on them. I would think that God could easily use a sermon or music to move or stir a person. I again like the idea of a spiritual retreat as to seek God in silence and solitude. I hope to be able to set aside time to at least accomplish this once a year. I believe it would be more refreshing than sitting alone in the car or sitting in the living room with a cup of coffee.
I must take care when practicing the discipline of submission to understand that it is not a religious checklist. Submission is not legalism. There is freedom in submission. I am not in control. However, I believe that submission may be the most difficult discipline to practice. Loving other people unconditionally is hard. I know the part of submission where we have given up our rights. I have no problem with that. I believe that submission allows us to become slaves to Christ. Submission requires us to enter the state of self-denial. My life is not about me. It is about God. My accolades, praises, pats on the back etc. are not for my glory. They are all for God’s glory. Submission requires that I love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and love my neighbor as myself. Living out that Scripture allows me to be submissive both to God and others. The only time submission should be really questioned is when it is unreasonable or destructive. Other than that, we are required to be obedient.
I have never been one to want to hog the spotlight. However, I do like when someone says that I do a good job. The discipline of service allows me to do things or tasks without being recognized or made much of. It is important that God be made much of. If my service to people or to the church was for the sole purpose of being recognized by others than I would have been serving only to appease my own self-righteousness. The Bible does say that if that is my motive for doing service, than I have received my reward. I would rather pass on that. The discipline of service stabs at the flesh. The flesh fights against service because our pride must be set aside to accomplish serving. Serving others in any capacity allows me to put others before myself. I enjoy serving but there are times where I need to say no to some things. My wife has told me before that she does not mind me serving; she just does not want me to get taken advantage of and used. So, I need to learn how to better choose when I serve instead of saying yes to everyone.
The discipline of confession is a powerful one to practice. I believe that freedom can come from confessing sins to God but I also believe that confessing to another person also helps provide a level of freedom that we would not necessarily have had if we did not have that friend to confide in. Confession without repentance is nothing. Confession without turning from the sin is nothing more than a sarcastic apology. My wife is my best friend. I can go to her with any of my struggles and she will pray for me as well as forgive me. My accountability partner is also a blessing. We can talk about anything and when the conversation is over, we have a better idea of how to pray for each other. I believe that true confession happens when we realized that we have sinned and we desire the restoration of fellowship with God.
We all worship. We are created to worship. The question is not are we worshipping but what are we worshipping. God should be the object and focus of our worship. Anything that we focus our worship on apart from God becomes an idol to us. Worship should be an attitude and a lifestyle. I believe that you have to prepare yourself to worship. Motives play a big part in worship too. Singing a hymn or praise song without focusing on God is nothing more than words coming out of our mouth. I believe that there is a tone or proper posture to worship. The Bible tells us to fall on our knees or bow before God. The Bible also says that we are to lift up holy hands. God alone should be the object of our worship. This will be made evident in how other areas of our life is lived out.
I was a little disappointed at first to know that the chapter of guidance was not on a personal level. I am not knocking corporate guidance, it is just difficult for me to practice. I am not yet pastor of a church, I do not serve on any committees or attend business meetings. I had thought that I would not be able to practice this discipline and then it hit me. I serve as college pastor. I can practice corporate guidance in the context of our college ministry. I believe as God speaks to me I can pass that on to the college students. I also believe that as the pastor speaks or the church votes, I can fall in line with what they have agreed upon. I want to practice every discipline with the right heart and motives. I have a painful experience of what happened when I was disobedient and I learned very quickly why it is better to be obedient to God. I do believe that corporate guidance has a lot to do with prayer. A congregation should pray for their pastor that he is listening to God. There is nothing worse than following a man that is not listening to God.
The discipline of celebration is also new to me. Joy is in concert with celebration. Depending on God’s provision allows for us to celebrate. My wife has sacrificed for our family for the past few years because she believes in me enough to allow me to go to school. We have had plenty of causes of celebration. God has provided for us in these past few years in ways that we never saw coming. Our newest cause of celebration is our little boy. God allowed for him to be healthy when he was born and he is learning and growing properly. I believe that joy and celebration are to fill the life of a Christian. I do not understand why there are many Christians that feel that the Christian life is dull, boring or meaningless. Hard, yes. Dull, no. The fact that we have salvation in Christ alone is enough cause for celebration. I have to agree with Foster that there is joy in result of our obedience to God. The more we are obedient, the more joy we have. We can celebrate in the simple things as well as when something amazing happens in our lives. It is hard to read some parts of Scripture without celebrating. It is difficult to see God answer your prayer or the prayer of a friend or relative without celebrating. Celebration also comes when we are able to rejoice in all of our circumstances. When we place all our cares on Christ, we have no reason to worry. God has everything in control. Celebration can be practiced through parties, dancing, laughing, singing and anything else that we find joy in.
I have found where I am doing well and where I lack discipline. I am confident enough to practice these disciplines now out of obedience and a desire to please God. I must have the right heart when practicing these disciplines. I have learned that the disciplines compliment each other. The disciplines can be practiced alone or in combination with another one. I believe that I have learned more through this process of practicing disciplines than through any other class this semester. The spiritual disciplines are conducive to my growth in sanctification. It is important for me to practice them more often so that I may be more conformed to the image of Christ.