I think there are times when the spiritual disciplines are used for all the wrong reasons. Maybe there are times we think we can leverage God to intervene in the ways we prefer if only we do the things he asks. What is intended as a relationship building activity ends up being a tool of manipulation aimed at getting our way rather than spending time with God for no other reason than it being our desire to spend time with the creator of the universe, no strings attached. When we view the disciplines as tools to force God’s hands it is no more healthy for our spirituality than going to the gym for 2 hours a day but only eating cupcakes the whole time is for our physical well being.
What is more important? Is it more important in all our limited understanding, wisdom and lack of common sense to actually get all the things we ask for from God? Or is it more important that we practice spiritual disciplines because we actually want to spend time with God and be open to his answer whether we agree with it or not.When Jesus prayed you never find a moment when he is trying to twist God’s arm. In fact, you see quite the opposite. At times you see him wrestle with conforming to God’s will. Somehow we get that backwards at times.
I don’t think the spiritual disciplines are about getting things our way as much as they are about relationship building. I asked our Sunday morning class what they thought if the only time I spent with Missy, my wife, was the times they saw (Sunday and Wednesday). How well would that work? One person’s reply was “We sure wouldn’t have a Jonah!” But seriously, if that was the only time we spent with our spouse was a couple of hours a week we would basically have no relationship.
We need to change the goal of our disciplines. The goal must shift from what is in it for me to how can I draw closer in my relationship with God because I value God that much. A marriage based on “What’s in it for me” never works out and neither will a relationship with God that is focused on self more than it is focused on the One who created us for relationship with Him. The incredible backwards thing about all of this is, when you approach God that way, he will supply your every need in ways far beyond our comprehension. We will exprience a well live, full life and is whole and at piece but first we have to wrestle the control right out of our own hands and let God pick it up and run with it.
I completely agree that we should not be inward-focused in our approach toward the spiritual disciplines. If we exercise the disciplines, with the goal of fulfilling our own self-seeking desires, then we have clearly missed the point. We are no longer engaging God relationally, but rather expecting him to do something for us because we are doing something “spiritual” to get his attention/approval.
However, that’s not how God’s grace works. Spiritual disciplines are not about moving the hand of God, it’s about moving ourselves into God’s presence. Picture, if you will, God pouring out golden oil out of a large jar from the sky. The oil represents God’s manifest presence, glory, and grace.
We could do all sorts of things to get God’s attention to persuade him to move his hand [move the jar of grace] over our head where we are presently standing.
But, what’s stopping us from moving into God’s presence? It doesn’t take a genius to see that God is manifesting his presence and glory over there [wherever “there” may be]. Perhaps exercising a little diligence on our part will bring us into his throne room of grace?
I know I’m leaving a few loose ends here, but I thought I would try to get the conversation going. 🙂