Thursday, October 1, 2009

Practicing Faith, Part I: On Spiritual Disciplines

As part of my church internship, I am writing the curriculum for a four-month long study for four small groups of young married couples who meet together around Atlanta twice a month. The subject is the spiritual disciplines, and the study looks to be around nine sessions. For each study I write an introduction for the leader/facilitator on the specific subject for that session, and I thought I would start sharing them in this forum. Much of the below text is adapted from a previous post of mine here on the blog, but all future entries will be original. Enjoy!

- - - - - - -

Our lives are filled with noise. Auditory noise, visual noise, sensory noise, relational noise, religious noise, entertainment noise, family noise, career noise, mundane noise. Noise, noise, only more noise. And nearly every second is bursting with endless new noise: a new commercial to laugh at, a new website to check out, a new book to add to the stack, a new album to buy, a new family to host, a new show to watch, a new ministry to lead, a new project to work, a new restaurant to try. Money and time, sound and sight, hands and mind, heart and spirit are all demanded, drained, drowned, and discarded—until the next new thing, ready for a spin. In such noise-filled lives, there is no room for God. God is on the sidelines; God can wait.

In response, spiritual disciplines take the time to carve out the noise so that God might step in. Spiritual disciplines recognize that what we need most is not some new product to consume, but rather the loving presence of God—and God's presence demands all of us.

So, for example, instead of speeding headlong, unstopping, through the highway of gluttony, the spiritual discipline of fasting pulls us over and tells us to wait. In fasting we learn that food is not what sustains us; instead, God is our food. God sustains us. Not for a moment do we live without the gracious provision of God. And so, instead of eating, we pray. Not only do we pray, we remember those around the world and down the street who are hungry, too. We remember that Jesus was hungry, and that his hunger is the world's hunger. We remember to hunger and thirst first and foremost for righteousness, for justice, for peace—not for steak, or caffeine, or sugar. We remember that the bridegroom has left and we fast in eager anticipation of his return. We remember that the money in our pockets unspent on food can pay for another's meal. We remember, in other words, whose we are, and whom his mind is on, and how it is we live and move and have our being.

Spiritual disciplines, then, are about making room. And as anybody knows, when you’re clearing out a cluttered room you’ve got to get rid of what’s taking up space. Spiritual disciplines take the time to see what it is that is taking up the space in our lives, so that, by God’s grace, we can either toss them out or hand them over to God for transformation from obstacles to partners.

Therefore our working definition will be:

Spiritual disciplines are the concrete practices of human discipleship to Jesus which, in the context of the church community, (1) create space for God to form us over time by his Spirit, (2) call us to the obedience of faith even when we don’t feel like it, and (3) train us for the kingdom way of life.


  1. Yes.

    But who is going to guide you in this discipline? Especially as any attempt to discipline the mind and emotions is immensely difficult, as any serious practitioner of Spiritual life will tell you.

    In any other area of life one goes to someone who has mastered the discipline.

    So I would suggest that any and everyone needs to find someone who has actually mastered the disciplines and is therefore qualified to teach and guide others--a threshold personality as it were.

    Such mastery involves much much more than doing theology, or the usual "spiritual" counselling program at your usual church or seminary.

  2. I disagree slightly on the point - I believe teachers can often take the place of the Spirit-inspired Word of God (the rhema). Our greatest teacher is God through revelation, but no doubt, God speaks through those around oneself, and may establish a discipleship pedagogy between you and someone walking out the Kingdom when you are new to faith. Fellowship and community are the foundations of an accountable discipleship of Christ, and keeping your heart open to God's own sovereignty over your life.