Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 1)

Seedling     This is an introduction to a series of posts I hope to write about spiritual formation, and more specifically, about some (not all) spiritual disciplines. This isn’t meant to be a very in-depth, or advanced acedemic/theological treatment of the subject. There is nothing new here, only things I’ve read and heard many times before (as I’m sure you have too), and maybe more importantly, stuff I’ve learned from my own attempts to live some of this way of life. Since I have no original thoughts, I’ll be using a bunch of quotes. But bear with me, I need to hear these things again. Maybe you do too.

Spiritual formation and spiritual discipline are two of the more trendy phrases heard these days. I’m typically pretty skeptical of trendy anything. Maybe it has to do with the fact I’ve never really been part of the “cool” crowd. Maybe it has something to do with the old photos of super-fashionable leisure suits and platform shoes that have a way of resurfacing every few years. But whatever the reason, sour grapes or lessons learned from hindsight, I stay, at most, on the trailing edge of anything trendy. But I’ve been interested in spiritual formation and the spiritual disciplines for many years, proving only that this is the rare occurrence of me being out in front of something. Maybe those leisure suits and satin shirts will ….nah!

 I’ve read many books about the subject, sat under some really smart folks’ teaching, and practiced most of the disciplines I’m aware of. I’m no expert, but I know a little about this stuff. In trying to live out a life faithful to Jesus and His ways, I’ve known some successes, and I’ve known more failures. I have many problems when it comes to living a disciplined life. Two come to mind pretty quickly, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one  with these. Remember this is just two of several.

One, I forget much of what I’ve learned. I often feel like comedian Steven Wright when he said, “Right now I’m having amnesia and deja-vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve started well with a particular discipline and drifted off to the point where I no longer even remember it. Until a couple of months later when I suddenly think, “What happened to that?

Two, I don’t practice enough of what I do remember. In this I am clearly among those about whom Columbanus said, “We desire to know all; we tire of doing all we know, hoping that words can count instead of deeds. Perhaps here below they may; for above they clearly cannot in God’s sight, since there it is not he who has spoken, but he who has acted, that shall be saved.”  In this there is the old tension between how much is for me to do, and how much is God’s province. Incidentally, I find that much of the spiritual life consists in holding things in tension.

This brings us to the purpose of a spiritual discipline. I’m with Henri Nouwen on this one.

“Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance. Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to”.

Disciplines are means, not ends. They are not skill sets that we become proficient with. They are the paths that God uses to bring us into conformity with Him. And make no mistake about it, His purpose is to make us into His likeness, and He will not quit until we are. “One day we will be like Him.”

Part two soon.


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