Spiritual disciplines aren’t just one more thing to keep us busy. They don’t exist to occupy our mind. We don’t do them as penance. Spiritual disciplines are here for us as tools to focus on God, put him first and find our ultimate delight and fulfillment solely in God. Too often in the past, I have taught the “how to’s” of the disciplines without teaching the “Why”. The key ingredient to making the spiritual disciplines (things like prayer, fasting, scripture reading & rest) effective is identifying their purpose.
Why do these things? We do them because they draw us closer to God. Left to ourselves, doing the things that come natural to us, drawing near to God is difficult. It takes us doing things that at first don’t come natural to us (like abstaining from food!) in order to get in tune with God on a level that goes beyond the ordinary. Once we understand that these practices draw us closer to God they more easily become a natural and regular part of our lives. But before that can be true we have to really, really desire God. If we don’t desire God, we won’t desire to be closer to Him. If we don’t believe we can actually find fulfillment in God we won’t desire to draw closer to Him.
The effectiveness of the spiritual disciplines rests on the work of the Spirit and our submitting to His work. Without that we are just going through the motions. Once we understand that and FEEL that draw and that desire, the disciplines become powerful, transformative and normative in the Christian life. What once felt so unnatural becomes a natural part of our lives. So before we teach the disciplines, let’s make sure we start with the “Why” otherwise we are just teaching more “to do’s”. More on the disciplines in some upcoming posts.
P.S. – As I have been studying through the disciplines I have been convicted that one has been missing from many lists is the discipline of waiting (read Psalm 37 and see if it doesn’t come across that way to you). It is also one of the most needed disciplines in Western culture today.