In order to be a better writer, you have to set yourself to practice writing. To become a better runner, you have to set aside time to run. To grow in your profession, you have to force yourself to study and take new courses in your field. Each of these provides an example of a word that is too often disregarded in our post-modern culture, discipline.
To become better at anything, indeed, to be anything, one has to “discipline” themselves to do the things that allow them to be what they desire to be. The term “discipline” brings out many negative connotations due to the concept being rather berated in popular media over the last couple of decades. We hear the term used most often in “disciplining” our children, and always from the perspective of proper forms of punishment. However, discipline is not about punishment, contrary to the popular opinion.
Discipline is a two way street that involves both reward and punishment. To be disciplined, one must know what is the right thing to do and what good comes from sticking to it. In order to know what is the right thing to do, you must also know what is the wrong thing to do and what bad comes from doing those things. “To Discipline” someone is to teach them what the right and wrong thing is, and to train the person to do what is right out of habit and willful desire, so they can experience the reward or benefit that can only be achieved through it, and to build in them appropriate feelings of guilt and regret should they falter and do what is wrong. This requires the “Discipliner” to provide the reward or to make it clear when achieved, but also to be the enforcer, the punisher when wrong is done. As this carries forward, the trainee then experiences the good and is compelled to stay on the right, disciplined path, in order to achieve it. They also develop a sense of guilt and regret should they fail, not out of fear, but out of a loss of the good that comes from the discipline. Discipline is at its best when what one is being disciplined to do has benefits that are naturally experienced by sticking to the discipline.
So to understand what is meant by “Spiritual Discipline,” lets break it down. Spiritual Disciplines are the collection of good and beneficial habits that a person must practice if they are to grow spiritually. They are disciplines in that they must be done if the good (spiritual growth) is to be achieved. The “discipliner” in the Christian practice of Spiritual Disciplines is God. The “punishment” is not some action taken on God’s part against us for not doing them, but is instead the withholding of the gifts He has to give to those who seek Him. The reward of the Spiritual Disciplines then is Spiritual Growth, which is the receipt of the gifts the Lord has to offer each one of us through our pursuit of Him. This allows us to understand these Disciplines as those habits we believers must build into the course of our regular lives in order to pursue God and form a right relationship with Him so that we may receive the gifts He has to offer each of us.
These disciplines allow us to become more “in tune” with God. They give us time to detach ourselves from the world we dwell in and move into dwelling in His world. The gifts the Lord has to give to us are a part of the relationship He desires to have with us. Each habit is focused squarely on the goal of building that relationship with Him, and forming in our hearts and minds the ability to better hear Him. These disciplines are “Spiritual” in that the effort is to bring ourselves into concert with the Holy Spirit dwelling in each of us who has faith in Him.
Spiritual is another term that is often much abused in the popular media of our times. The Spiritual is that which involves our “true selves.” That part of us which contains the identity and nature which God intended for us to be. It is our conscience, our raw personality without the physical influence, our true selves. The more “in tune” we are with our spirit, the more we become as God intended for us to be. The more our Spirit leads our mind and our body, the more in line with God’s purpose we become. The Holy Spirit works within us to bring out our spirit, putting our true selves back in the forefront and together with the Holy Spirit, in right relationship with God. This is not done to result in a permanent detachment in the world (as with the eastern religious practices). Instead, it is done so that we can be what we are suppose to be in the world. This prepares us for what is to come once we do inevitably leave it.
For many, the Spiritual Disciplines will prove difficult. It is hard for many people to even think of the spiritual, as it is often associated with the “soft and squishy” side of things. It is important to note that when our spirit is in the front, we are at our strongest, our most focused, and at our best. Spiritual growth is a life long event and in Theology is called the process of “sanctification.” This process is done by God alone in us, not through our own will or force, but by setting our will aside, and allowing the Holy Spirit to bring our own spirit to life. However, it does require our willingness to bring the body and the mind into submission to the spirit, and building the habits that allow this process to occur. The ultimate benefit that is the purpose of the discipline is from God alone.
As I go through this series on the Spiritual Disciplines, I will be using a wonderful book titled Celebration of Discipline written by Richard J. Foster as my guide. I highly recommend this text to my readers. It makes for a wonderful tool for reference and guidance in understanding the disciplines that would add to those reading through my own explanation of the disciplines here. The Spiritual Disciplines are broken down as follows:
- The Inward Disciplines
- The Outward Disciplines
- The Corporate Disciplines
I pray that as we go through each of these disciplines you will see their value and come to understand their importance in the regular life of the Christian. Build these disciplines into regular habits in your life and you will receive the “reward” of the free gift of grace and blessing that the Lord has to offer all those who freely seek Him with all their heart, all their mind, all their spirit, and all their strength.