Spiritual Disciplines

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We’ve paused our consideration of the Disciplines for a time, in part because of an increased experience of the Discipline of Service to my boys while Kelly was away in Oaxaca (You can read about that experience in our most recent newsletterPDF.), and in part because of the frenetic pace that accompanies the final weeks before Christmas vacation. Still, though our forward progress has been slowed, the practice of the disciplines considered, especially those of prayer, study, solitude, service, and submission have been constant companions, a means to orient my life toward the grace that, I have become increasingly aware, God longs to lavish on each one of his children.

However, as I traveled to ACLAME meetings in Springfield, MO. My need to switch to airplane mode to disconnect with the Internet and all of the urgency and distraction that it generates, became another opportunity for me to connect with the Disciplines and, with them, the God who has so generously provided them as a means to align us with his divine nature. Today we move forward into the Discipline of Worship.

While, as with the other Disciplines, I’ll look to define the Discipline of Worship and seek to record my personal experience with it, I felt the need to stop at a declaration of the author, Richard Foster: “God is actively seeking worshipers.” Jesus declares, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (John 4:23, [italics added]).” When I’ve read this scripture in the past I’ve always pictured God as waiting for those who would worship him in “spirit and in truth,” as though it was something to be found within us, something which we would generate from ourselves as we applied the right songs, the right postures, or the right words to convey that spiritual worship. But Foster goes on to talk about the God who seeks, looks for, and evokes reaction from those with whom he interacts.

He provides a list of examples: God looking for Adam in the garden, Jesus, drawing all humanity to himself on the cross, the Father running to the prodigal. Each one shows us a God who initiates the worship that he seeks from his children, who shows himself to them, who gives them every reason to exult in praise and adoration. And so we turn to the Discipline of Worship with a new understanding: even as the Scriptures call for a sacrifice of praise, we recognize that it is God who grants us the reasons and the resources that we need to present to him that sacrifice that he requests.

Like the father who receives with gratitude the gift that his child has purchased for him although the money for that gift came from the father’s own pocket, such is the expectation and subsequent joy of our Heavenly Father when we respond in worship although, in fact, it is a worship that he himself has made possible. May we then enter into to this Discipline knowing that we have divine aid ensuring our success. What a Good, Good Father he is indeed!

Before we go on in our study, let’s talk about this idea

What’s your take on John 4:23?
As we close out this year of 2018, can you remember instances when God has sought you out to worship him? Share it with us.

Photo credits: Nazarene General Assembly 2013 by Jake Guild used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

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This week, we’ve been working through the Spiritual Discipline of Confession as explained in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline. Yesterday, I talked about my preparation for the actual practice of the confession. Today, I recount the experience. My hope is that, as others read of my account they will be encouraged to walk through their own exercise of confession.

I found, first of all, that the anticipation of the event of giving my confession was in itself a motivation towards the deep work of reflection. The Greek Philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Paul tells us to “test ourselves to see if we are in the faith.” Nevertheless, we tend to rush ahead into our days, weeks, months, and even years, barely pausing to catch our breath, so wrapped up in what’s coming, that we rarely, if ever, reflect on what we have done or the effect it may have had on others.

The preparation for the practice of confession caused me to think deeply about my experiences and ask the Lord to reveal that which needed to be recalled, mourned, confessed and forgiven. He did not fail me in this exercise. As I spent the time to recall what I had done, he was faithful to bring to mind the sins both of comission and omission that needed to be addressed in my time of confession.

But the time of confession was not simply an exercise of writing out my past sins as one would write out a list of chores to accomplish or groceries to buy. It was, as well an exercise of comprehension, of understanding of what those sins had meant, not only in the in the moment when they occurred, but also how they had affected my life as a whole and my relationships both with God and others. In that, I found confession to be a catalyst for the production of genuine sorrow. The tears flowed on more than one occasion, both as I prepared and as I shared as I came to understand the profound effect of my failures, shortcomings, and willful disobedience.

Still, my time of confession was more than simply a time for tears, it was for me a pathway for the achievement of true relief. As I spent the hour with my confessor, my first and only act of confession so far as an Evangelical Christian, there was a comfort that I felt as I shared with him what the Lord had revealed to me during my time of preparation. Although I am sure that I had confessed each one of those sins privately prior to our meeting, sharing what I had done with another human being made the confession more tangible, more concrete. The activity of my confessor was truly priestly. He served as an intermediary physically listening, understanding, and responding to the words that I spoke audibly which were previously only confessed in my mind or in whispers.

In the act, I was comforted by the seriousness and respect with which he took up the matter. He gave me his full attention. He listened and commented appropriately as I spoke of the my failures along the pathway of life, be them the routine selfish actions or the isolated incidents that the Spirit had brought to my remembrance over the past 3 days of reflection. His questions were not to pry but to clarify, helping me to reveal that which had been burdening my heart. He brought grace to the meeting by not rushing my response, waiting for me to compose myself when the tears flowed. By the time that he spoke the words of 1 John 1:9, It had become more than a cathartic experience with a stranger behind a curtain, it was the embrace of a brother, loving me in all my imperfection and granting me the assurance that Christ’s work was more than sufficient to cover even the sins I had been unable to recall.

In the end, my time of confession was more than a time of reckoning with the past, it was also a reorientation toward the future. The act of confession and the confirmation of my forgiveness gave me a liberty to embrace radical repentance. With nothing to hide or repress, I am now free to engage fully in my relationship with God and others. With the pardon spoken and received, I am able to live openly, no longer hiding myself from scrutiny, no longer telling myself, “If they truly knew me, they would think differently about me.” If my true self has already been revealed, evaluated confessed and forgiven by God, why do I need to fear from the criticism of others?

This, of course was a personal experience, one informed by the other disciplines in which I have already engaged. My own future experiences may not be nearly so special. Yours may not have the profound effect that mine has had due to your own prior experience in spiritual formation. Still, as I move on from here, I feel convinced that personal evaluation, continued accountability, and corporate confession is worth adding to my routine spiritual hygiene. I hope your experience with confession might at least leave you with the feeling that it was worth it to made the effort to complete the exercise.

Do you have a question about my experience or an experience of your own to share? Perhaps you’d like to make a comment about the Discipline of Confession. Why not leave one in the section below. I’d love to hear it.

Photo credit: “Confessions about confessionl” from pallottines.ie utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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In our consideration of the Spiritual Disciplines as treated in the book, Celebration of Discipline, we now turn our focus from service to the Spiritual Discipline of confession. This is also a movement, as the book suggests, from the outward Disciplines of Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service, to the Corporate Disciplines, which include Worship, Guidance, and Celebration, as well as Confession.

Of course, such a categorization of confession may seem strange to some. “Isn’t the confession of our sin a private matter between ourselves and God?” we may ask. Foster affirms this but also points out that the Bible calls for us to confess our sins one to another (James 5:15). He suggests that the reason that many of us struggle with the guilt of our past sins is because we have left this corporate discipline behind as a casualty of the reformation.

As a former catholic, I lament the loss of this spiritual exercise. If there was one thing that has maintained meaning for me in my religious practice after coming to faith in Jesus Christ it is the sacrament, as it is called, of Reconciliation. I remember the catharsis that I experienced as I audibly confessed to another human being the sins that I had committed, and there was a power that I felt as I heard the words of absolution. As I left the booth or the room where I gave my confession, I remember that there would be a lightness in my step, a smile on my face, and a joy in my heart.

Now, I know that confession has been criticized for its abuse, for the idea that comes from a misunderstanding of its purpose that we might sin to our heart’s content just so long as we give confession afterwards, that in this game that we play with God, as long as we follow the rules of giving confession, that he must forgive us. This is an attitude that we must reject. Still we must ask ourselves, do we negate the benefits of modern medicine because there are those who abuse prescription drugs? Do we stop giving to charitable organizations because there are those who have embezzled funds?

Certainly, I’m not advocating a return to empty rituals, I’m inviting us to experience the grace that comes from recovering a neglected Spiritual Discipline. In the days that come, we’ll explore what Richard Foster and the Bible have to say about the Discipline of Confession and we’ll take some time to walk through its practice. I expect it to be uncomfortable, but I hope and pray that, like any exercise, it will bring us benefit from its practice.

What would you say about the Discipline of Confession as we begin? What, if any, experience do you have with its practice? Have you experienced any benefit from it? Have you witnessed its abuse? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section.

Photo credit: “Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse – chapelle des reliques – Confessionnal” by Didier Descounes utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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As we return to our consideration of the Spiritual Discipline of service, considered in the book, Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, we turn from our pretexts for not serving, about which we spoke two days ago (i.e. we don’t want to be taken advantage of or be walked up like a doormat.) to now to look at our aversion to the activity of service. This quote from Foster seems to exemplify that aversion:

“In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’ call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the gospel than his word to wash feet. Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance of glorious martyrdom. But in service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves. Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial.”

Carrying our cross, following after Jesus to the “ends of the earth.” that is the stuff of sermons, the call that fills the altars, the great work that we feel that we must do, but washing the dishes, setting up chairs, sitting and listening to that person we know will carry on about their difficulties, that is that slow death that we wish to avoid. And yet, if we are to embrace the Disciplines and their work in us , shouldn’t we seek after those deaths, knowing that it will prepare us for that great work that we feel we have been called to accomplish?

Perhaps a change in perspective is what we need. Caedmon’s Call recorded a song some time ago called “Sacred“. It’s a song of a mom asking the question “Could it be that everything is sacred?” as she serves her small children. The chorus ends, “Could it be that everything is sacred, and all this time, everything I’ve dreamed of (that calling, that great work), that has been right before my eyes?” Service, then, may not the distraction from the work that we are called to do but the way to step into it.

What are the areas that you feel have been pulling you from your “calling” today? Household chores undone, a child’s homework, a dirty diaper, a friend’s telephone call? Perhaps it’s not a distraction but an opportunity. Why not try to embrace that moment of service, understanding that if we are to be great we must first become a servant (Matt 20:25-28). If you can, share about the experience.

Image credits: Jesus washing feet statue WLC by txnetstars, used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

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For the past few weeks I’ve been writing on Facebook about the Spiritual Disciplines, first reflecting on the book Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard, and, more recently, the book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. In a conversation with my brother, Mike, he suggested that perhaps Facebook wasn’t the best place to post these more “long form” reflections, that perhaps a link to my own personal site might attract the kind of conversation that Facebook has failed to generate. Well, in the spirit of experimentation, which I’ve been trying to cultivate with the Disciplines, I’ve decided to try out his advice.

If you take a look at our past treatment of the disciplines, you’ll find that we’ve left off with the discipline of service. It’s my full intention to pick back up with that conversation shortly. However, the call to service this week has kept me from writing in the more consistent manner that I’m accustomed to. Still, it has not kept me from listening to podcasts, which I enjoy immensely, whether I’m exercising solo, commuting or doing household chores.

In the course of that listening I came upon what I thought was an incredible physical analogy for the Spiritual Disciplines. I heard it in the November 8th episode of the Run to the Top Podcast with Matt Fitzgerald called, “Pushing Your Limits.” I’ve include the link here for you to go and get it on iTunes or on the Android podcast player that I use, PlayerFM:

The show itself discusses mental toughness and how physical performance is enhanced by mental preparation, but it fits very well with Dallas Willards idea of the concept of the Spiritual Disciplines as that which are activities within our power that enable us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort because we meet with the actions of God (grace) with us.

His explanation of “inhibitory control” or could we say “self-denial” for the sake of a greater gain, at 10:13 in the episode, is especially interesting. Also of note is the way in which this type of control can be developed through intention, and transference (doing something easier to help form the toughness for the more difficult endeavor) which sound very much like Willard’s VIM model of spiritual transformation: vision, intention, and means. You can hear this part of the conversation starting at 16:45 in the podcast.

I invite you to give a listen to the podcast with your spiritual ears on and try to hear the various connections between the physical, emotional, and spiritual training of our bodies and the benefits that the Spiritual Disciplines might provide us for seeing progress, perhaps in all of those areas.

Whatever connections you find, be sure to share them in the comments section!

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