Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Life You've Always Wanted

After Melissa and I decided that we'd write a series on spiritual disciplines, I began to search my Bible.  Immediately I saw a glaring problem: the term isn't mentioned at all!  I couldn't find a list of "spiritual disciplines", no rules for when and how to practice them. Then I remembered years ago I had read John Ortberg's The Life you've Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for ordinary people. When I reread it, I remembered why it was my favorite. Rather than laying out a long list of things we should feel guilty for not doing, Ortberg is practical and committed to the ideas of freedom and joy. 

I have a twisty mind, the sort that likes poetry, metaphors and is always asking questions.  I needed a metaphor, and "The Life You've Always Wanted" had a great one.  Imagine if you tried to get up right now and run a marathon.  Could you?  If your very life depended on it, in the greatest extremity of fear could you do it, just by trying?  Probably not.  What if you started training?  Could you walk 2 miles today?  Run ½ a mile next week?  Train everyday for the next six months and then run a marathon? Probably so.  It might not be pleasant or fun, but the odds are if you had to, you could.  Ortberg says the spiritual disciplines are like training for a marathon.  They are practice for following Jesus.  Because no matter how hard we "try" we simply can't do it perfectly right now.  

With that idea in hand I was very interested to see that he had the disciplines divided up into two categories-Engagement and Abstinence. Think of them as "doing" and "not doing" disciplines.  Doing disciplines include: spiritual friendship/fellowship, worship, service, confession, meditation/recitation, journaling and prayer.  "Not Doing" disciplines include: silence, solitude, secrecy, fasting, 

I think of them differently.  I think of disciplines that we are commanded to do, that are shown by example, and that are worth a try.  For example prayer is one of the most basic commands for Christians (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:7, James 5:13).  Worship, good works, secrecy, confession, and fellowship also fall in this category. When it comes to example, we can look to Jesus to see how deeply he loved his times of solitude (Matthew 14, Mark1), and how he assumed that the disciples would fast after he went back to heaven (Luke 5:33-35).  Finally, when it comes to journaling, silence, and the myriad of bible-reading plans, we are talking about stuff that would neat to try but we can find neither a clear example nor command for in the Bible. 

I like the metaphor of training versus trying, but after some reflection I think I have a better one.  Practicing spiritual disciplines is like trying to be healthy.  Everyone knows what they should do: exercise regularly, eat healthy food, take their vitamins, and drink plenty of water. Celebrities, doctors, bloggers, they all have their own special plan that will solve all your health problems. What we need more than a special plan or even more education is to start DOING what we know we should.  And not just once either. Eating right this week won't make you healthy and exercising this week won't make you strong.  It has to be the practice of our lifetime for it to really be effective.  Do you see the parallel?  Most of us know that we need to pray, be in the word, worship regularly, and even fast sometimes.   But how many of us have the habit deeply ingrained in us to do these things thoughtfully day by day, decade by decade?

I read the book first more than 15 years ago.  It has lost nothing to the intervening years.  It's still as practical and down to earth as it was then.  He begins each chapter with an example and his humble self-disclosure is as convicting as it is uplifting. Unlike other books I've seen on the spiritual disciplines no one would walk away from this one wondering if they could do this without being a monk!  I would especially recommend it to you because he covers several disciplines that Melissa and I won't in this series and all of them in great detail.  I hope you learn as much from it as I did. 

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