Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spiritual Disciplines

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Living abroad has given me a different view of our freedom in Christ.  I can't help but think that part of the reason that God gave us such immense freedom (inside of his commands and principles) is that he knew that different cultures, languages, times and people would have such powerfully different expressions of his truth.  

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying every way is acceptable.  But look at the command to pray.  Christians don't stop their day for a call to prayer.  There are no exact words that we have to say each time.  We pray the scripture; we pray our own words, we pray in song, we pray in our heart or we join with an amen the one who prays in public.  The Bible doesn't demand that we pray in a particular language or with a particular length.  Eyes open, eyes closed.  Hands busy on the steering wheel, hands folded at our heart. We don't have to turn our face to Jerusalem or our eyes to heaven.  The New Testament just does not dictate these things to us.  We have freedom and grace in our prayers.   

The New Testament does speak at length on the attitude and heart of a person who is born again. Take for example Romans 12.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 

These are the goals.  Patience in tribulation.  Rejoicing in hope.  Serving the Lord. But how to get there?  How to we begin to become the person God meant for us to be?  How do we nurture the seeds of the Kingdom in us so that they grow into mustard trees?  

In some traditions the people who most wanted to follow God withdrew from the world.  They retreated into monasteries and caves and practiced what we now call "spiritual disciplines."  In their groups they lived in poor circumstances, spent days, weeks, or months in silence or solitude, read the Bible aloud at meal times, worshiped daily and prayed.  Is that what God means for us to do to grow?

I certainly can't find anywhere in my Bible the idea of retreating from the world.  God's prophets, priests, apostles and his own son went out into the world not backed off from it.  I also can't find any justification for the idea that some Christians are "special" and others are "ordinary."  As priests of God (Rev 1:4), all of us should be, "fervent in spirit" and "patient in tribulation." 

In the light of our freedom in Christ and our desire to be slaves to righteousness, how do we grow?  A sister pointed out to me recently that everyone wants to grow, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes.  I think she's right. We can look into the word of God and see things that holy people have always done. Then in grace we can think of some plans to work it out in our own lives.  

But take care. Increasing maturity in Christ ought to result in a life overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit.  So whatever the method is, it ought to lead us to be more joyous, more loving, kinder, more patient and gentle. If it doesn't, then we'd better abandon it post-haste. Paul and Jesus both identify the danger in exchanging the method for the goal. (1 Corinthians 13, Colossians 2, Matthew 6)  Simply put, we could pray 3 times a day and then decide we are excellent pray-ers as if being a pray-er was anything. Prayer and all other spiritual practices should flow from a love for God and result in a deepening love for our fellow man. They should bring not pride but humility and repentance.  

Freedom means we don't "have" to use one special plan.  For example, we don't "have" to go download a chronological read through the bible in a year plan and begin reading on January 1st.  But if we did we'd learn a lot.  You don't have to download an audio Bible and listen to it everyday while you do dishes, but I did and I've grown a lot.  In fact, in some seasons of our lives, we might not be able to do much more than read 3 or 4 verses first thing in the morning and dwell on them all day.  But what we've got to do is drink the pure milk of the word; that's how we grow (1 Peter 2:2).

There is no goal more worthy than growing up in Christ.  I know you want that as much as Melissa and I do.  We'll spend this month examining our habits, searching the scriptures about spiritual disciplines, and making suggestions about how these things might fit into our lives as a busy woman.  We'd love you to come along and grow with us. 
  Helene
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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