Spiritual Disciplines

The 12 disciplines explored are drawn from Richard Foster’s book, “Celebration of Discipline.”
 
There are lots of other books on the disciplines - and each has slight variations on the disciplines - but we will use Foster’s list.  -Pastor Matt
The Discipline of Meditation
This is not the sort of meditation that involves sitting cross-legged and saying “ohm” (or “amp” or “watt” or anything else to do with electricity). The goal is not to “empty” my mind, but to fill it with the Word of the Lord. It is mindfulness of God’s Word so that we become obedient and faithful to it. Meditation leads us to focus on--to think deeply about--a small portion of Scripture so that we not only constantly hear what God is saying, but consistently do what He asks of us. It makes communion with God possible, leading us to know Him more intimately.
 
Practicing Meditation
In its most basic form, meditation is pondering Scripture. Choose a verse and then, throughout the day, roll it over in your mind. Say, for instance, that you choose 1 John 4:8 (“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”). As you consider that verse throughout the day, you might wonder at and rejoice over the love God has shown for you; you might be moved to recognize your lack of love for others, or for a specific person; you could be prompted to ask God to help you love as He loves. All of these thoughts are produced because you are thinking about what God has to say in 1 John 4:8.
 
Challenge: For the next week, choose a verse and think about it throughout the day for seven days. Don’t pick seven verses - choose one and revisit it every day for a week. Think about it when you have time to redeem (while sitting at a traffic light, for instance) or while doing chores (like washing dishes). Set aside five to 15 minutes to really focus on the verse and listen to what God is saying through it as well.
 
What Meditation Produces
As noted in the first paragraph, meditation produces intimacy with God. It also helps produce the virtue that a particular verse addresses. Meditating on a passage about love leads us to love; meditating on a verse about joy produces joy; meditating on a Scripture that addresses peace helps us to be and/or make peace. At the same time, meditation helps conform us to God as we become more obedient and faithful to the Word.
 
The Discipline of Fasting
If you like eating as much as I do – and trust me, no matter how much you like eating, you don’t – then this discipline may seem like something of a stretch. But that’s the nature of disciplines. They are meant to challenge us, to stretch us, to shape us, so that we become more like Jesus. Jesus was pretty clear that fasting was something those who followed Him would do. Jesus did not say “If you fast,” but “When you fast” (see Matthew 6:16-18, emphasis added). This is a discipline, however, that has some pretty clear guidelines attached to it as you will see.
 
Practicing Fasting
Fasting is all about attitude and appearance. That is, we have to make sure that we fast for the right reasons and that we fast in the right way. When it comes to our attitude, we should fast because we feel led by God to do so, and, having been led by God, do so cheerfully. When it comes to our appearance, we first and foremost do not want to “appear” to be fasting (no long face, no stumbling around holding our stomach, no wearing a t-shirt that says, “Don’t bug me, I’m fasting”). Our fasting should go unnoticed by those around us as much as is possible.
 
There are several kinds of fasts you can try: You can skip one meal a day (or two or all meals) for several days, devoting the time you would usually use to prepare food and consume it to meditation and prayer; you can give up certain foods you find especially satisfying (did someone say chocolate?) while seeking God’s Word on a decision you need to make; you can engage in a “Daniel” fast for a period of time (often 40 days), during which you do eat only fruits, vegetables, and grains (no meat or sugary foods) as an act of devotion or to dedicate a season to God in which you seek His face more fervently.
 
Be very careful if you have blood sugar issues; and anyone who plans an extended fast should consult with their doctor. Also, regardless of which kind of fast you try, stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids throughout the fast! You can go a long time without food -- water, not so much.
 
What Fasting Produces
Fasting is not meant to slim your waistline or make you feel good about yourself. It is meant to help you connect with God on another level, to hear His voice in a new way, and to focus your heart, soul, strength and mind fervently and urgently. Fasting, like all of the “inward” disciplines, builds our relationship with God. It can also produce peace where there is none, increase our patience, and help us develop self-control.
 
The Discipline of Solitude
Like Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel, sometimes we all feel the need to say, “I want to be alone.” But hold on a minute, because that is not what is meant by the discipline of solitude, at least not completely. When we speak of the outward discipline of solitude, we are referring to the practice of withdrawing from the noise and crowds which constantly surround us in order to spend time with and hear more clearly from God. It is time set aside to draw near and listen to the Lord.
 
Practicing Solitude
Jesus demonstrated the practice of solitude throughout His time here on earth, as we see in this passage from Luke: “But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and great multitudes were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:15-16).
 
We need to slip away at times ourselves, and we can do it by remembering to take advantage of those moments when we are most likely to be alone anyway. Perhaps you rise before anyone else in your house; engage God in that solitude. You may be the first home from work or the last one in bed; use that time to your advantage to quietly enjoy the Lord’s presence, reconnecting with Him through prayer and active listening. You also can:
Use the area you prepared for prayer as your “quiet space” to spend time away from that which distracts
 
Speak less and listen more
 
Consider spending a day in complete silence
 
Take a few hours once each quarter to review the past three months and make plans along with God for the next three, setting goals and objectives which reflect His will for you
 
What Solitude Produces
Simplicity, Richard Foster writes, produces “increased sensitivity and passion for others.” This may seem counter-intuitive since solitude involves stepping away from people for at least a few moments, but providing ourselves with the space we need to "recharge" makes it possible for us to more effectively engage those who need our time and attention. As you make room for God in your life through the discipline of solitude, you will simultaneously be making room for others. 
 
The Discipline of Service
Service is another discipline that seems obvious at first glance, but when done with the wrong attitude or the wrong motives can produce exactly the opposite of what God intends. We know that we are called to be servants, for serving others is the pathway to greatness in God’s Kingdom. Jesus was the Suffering Servant who wasn’t afraid to stoop down and wash the feet of those He led. There is freedom in service when done well, and through it we can also tap into the joy that God intends for us to have.
 
Practicing Service
The first step in practicing service is to honestly ask ourselves why we choose to serve. If it is to be seen, to get something in return, to check something off our list, to rope someone into the Kingdom, to feel better about ourselves, or to force our “help” onto others whether they need/want it or not, it is not service at all. In short, if we are serving to make ourselves great, then we are not serving God, for true service exalts the Lord. Foster reminds us that service is not a matter of choosing to serve so much as choosing to be a servant; to go where God sends me and to do what God asks me to do.
 
The best service is done in secret, because it prevents us from drawing our own reward from what we do for others. It is not focused on doing something big, but on the joy which comes from doing something for God. It is also found in unexpected places, such as when we protect someone’s reputation, and when we refuse to gossip or defend the character of someone maligned in our presence.
 
Sometimes service means letting others serve us, receiving their gift and being thankful for having been served. Thanking others for their service, or letting them know that you see God is at work in them, is an act of service. Other acts of service include opening your home to a stranger; bearing someone’s burdens and sorrows; acting as a confidant; and providing material, spiritual, or emotional support.
 
What Service Produces
Service produces humility. So much of what we focus on has to do with our status. Richard Foster points out that very few of us can be first, but on one wants to be last. No one wants to humble him or herself, but service humbles us; it reminds us that no matter what our status here on earth, no matter how great or powerful, no matter how admired or emulated, there is One who rules over us all and before whom we are all equal. Service provides us with an “attitude check,” reminding us that those who would be great in God’s Kingdom get there by helping others, not themselves.
 
The Discipline of Worship
Worship is something that we do at least once a week and, if we understand worship in its broadest sense, on a daily basis. Worship is our reasonable response (Romans 12:1-2) to the love and grace God has shown us as we come before Him in order to acknowledge the Lord’s goodness and exalt Him. We do so in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), for the Holy Spirit has a role in equipping and leading us to worship while the Truth (that is Jesus, see John 14:6), through whom we have found life, provides the way for us to approach the Father.
 
Practicing Worship
The triune God is the focus or object of our worship. There is nothing else worthy of worship, and to worship anything else is idolatry, which provokes our jealous God (Exodus 20:1-4). The form worship takes, however, is as varied as the people God has gathered to Himself for worship.
Worship can find expression through music, preaching, giving, and prayer (the four most common aspects of public worship). It can also find expression through silence, service, and even our daily work. Anything we do with the intent to glorify God is, in some sense, worship. Anything we choose not to do with the intent to glorify God is also, in some sense, worship (1 Corinthians 10:31).
 
Worship draws us to God physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. In short, it involves every aspect of our being as we prepare and present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him.
 
Worship involves God’s presence, which we can experience on a daily basis. Allow room and time for being in God’s presence each day, perhaps as part of your “quite time” or your time of prayer. You can listen to or sing songs, offer up words of praise found in Scripture or your own life, and so on.
 
Prepare yourself for weekly worship: Spend the night before and the morning preceding weekly corporate worship focusing on and celebrating God’s goodness. Listen to God’s voice so that He might communicate anything that stands between you and the Lord, so that you might deal with it before worshiping with your brothers and sisters (Matthew 5:23).
 
Finally, worship with your fellow believers every week when you are not ill or traveling. There is always an excuse to not go to church; don’t let those excuses prevent you from attending church. Even when you are traveling, make it a point to worship with a gathered group of believers where you are. Worshiping in a community is too important to do anything less.
 
What Worship Produces
Worship inspires and motivates obedience. When we come before God and offer ourselves, we are released to the work; to give of ourselves for the Kingdom of God. It pushes us to go out into all the world and to demonstrate our love for God – heart, soul, mind, and strength – by serving Him through serving others. Worship allows us to focus within so that we might sharpen our focus without, leading us to new levels of obedience because we have been before the throne of God.
 
The Discipline of Celebration
Celebration is an overflow of joy in the hearts and minds of those who know they belong to God. It is, in the words of Richard Foster, “central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity, the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving” ("Celebration of Discipline," page 191).
 
Practicing Celebration
We are good at celebrating things like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays because we understand that those days are infused with--and thus draw out of us--joy. We are less good, however, at remembering to experience spontaneous joy, especially in connection with our walk with God.
 
We can experience that sort of joy when we allow ourselves to sing, dance, and even shout in worship because God is so good (Psalm 150). Of course, your idea of a solo might well be singing “so low” no one can hear you (and, in my case, perhaps for good reason!). You may have two left feet, or be troubled or embarrassed by the idea of shouting. No matter. If you can’t sing, dance, or shout, then laugh at yourself! Enjoy the humorous stories, jokes, and (maybe) even puns of others; give yourself the freedom to laugh as I believe Jesus did. You also can (and should) marvel in the beauty and creativity of God and of those around you; there are vistas right in our neighborhood that, if we take the time to look, will take away our breath and lift our hearts toward heaven!
 
Don't forget to mark events that are meaningful in your own life, in the lives of your family, and in the life of Christ:
Celebrate a promotion, a birthday, an anniversary

Take the time to relax and enjoy your family as you share in games or puzzles or movies

Laugh as you share memories of times past and anticipate greater joys to come

Enjoy and fully inhabit time spent with others (put away your phone or tablet--turn off the computer, the television, and even the camera)

Celebrate Christmas by giving gifts not only to those you love, but those in need by packing shoeboxes for “Operation Christmas Child” as a family

Celebrate the power of the resurrection at Easter not just with chocolate bunnies, but also by surprising your neighbor with a bouquet of flowers
 
In short, do those things that remind you of the goodness and fullness of God, who is the source of that joy which gives us strength.
 
What Celebration Produces
Celebration produces the ability to experience and inspire joy. It helps us to express the feelings of exuberance that are the result of having been raised from the dead.
 
As you practice each of the disciplines, do so with joy as the primary motivator of your action, for when you choose to do these things as an expression of the joy that is within you, they themselves magnify that joy as your actions magnify the Lord.
 
The Discipline of Prayer
Here is a discipline we are all familiar with. Most everyone prays; even people who do not consider themselves Christians or particularly “religious” pray. We want to be clear, however, about what we are looking for when we pray. If we use prayer as a way to get what we want, that is nothing more than manipulation. If we expect prayer to result only in God’s “yes,” it is incantation. But if we use prayer to talk to God, expecting Him to speak to us as well, it is conversation -- that is our aim when we endeavor to pray.
 
Practicing Prayer
This should be easy: Bow your head, fold your hands, start talking. But we want to be sure we have prepared ourselves for prayer and, as much as possible, prepared a place to pray. As you engage in prayer this week, set aside a specific time and place each day to do so. If you can, go so far as to set up an area in a room or closet which will be dedicated to prayer; just as you prepare a specific place to sleep or eat, you should also consider doing the same for the place where you pray -- at the least you will need a comfortable place to sit or kneel and a bulletin board or wall you can pin or tape things to. Having done that, make a list of those you wish to pray for (if you are a Prayer Partner or receive the Prayer Post, that is a good place to start). Write those prayers out so that you will have given some thought as to what you might say, and post them where you will see them as you pray. Finally, once you have prayed, spend several minutes in silence, listening for God to respond. For if you will listen, He will speak.
 
What Prayer Produces
There is a saying you may be familiar with: “Prayer changes things.” That is certainly true, although there is a considerable amount of mystery regarding just how and why prayer brings about change. There is no mystery about one aspect of that change, however, for what changes most when we pray is ourselves. Prayer helps us conform to the will and way of God. It helps us to conform to His image as well. As you pray, you will find a greater intimacy with God, to be sure, but it will be based on the fact that you have become more like Him.

The Discipline of Simplicity
Simplicity begins inwardly but is expressed outwardly. The inward aspect of simplicity leads us to let go of our desire to gain status or position. That is always a struggle for those who live in a culture geared toward amassing large amounts of things not because we need them, but because we are told we need them. Our culture is geared toward consuming, but simplicity allows us to be “counter-cultural,” to walk away from the need to possess all that the world has to offer. Simplicity shuns the push to "have it all," encouraging us to have only what we need.
 
Practicing Simplicity
Simplicity in practice involves learning to live with just what we need, no more and no less. It does not mean we have to sell all we have and give it to the poor. That was the challenge to the rich young ruler, and it applies to us only if it is our wealth that is keeping us from fully following Jesus; more than likely your besetting sin lies elsewhere. The Bible is also clear that we should enjoy creation and the fruit of our labor. However, most of us still have more than we can possibly use.
 
Some steps you can take towards simplicity include:
Go through your clothes and give away items that are rarely worn as well as duplicate items you’ve held onto “just in case.”
 
Consider that which you may be addicted to, such as television or electronics of all kinds; excessive attention to the preparation and consumption of certain foods; obsessively keeping up with the news, Web sites, or e-mail.
 
Take stock of your gadgets and gizmos that make tasks “more convenient” or “save time,” and discard those which do neither.
 
Enjoy things you can’t own (often these are natural things, like the woods or the beach) and cultivate a deeper appreciation of them.
 
Owe no one anything but to love one another. Work on making your speech as plain and honest as you can.
 
There are five more suggestions in “Celebration of Discipline,” but these are a good start. 
 
What Simplicity Produces
Simplicity frees us from the tendency to covet, hoard, or be greedy. It produces in their place generosity -- we become willing to share what we have because we no longer fear losing it, and willing to give away what we have because we no longer fear that those things cannot be replaced. Simplicity creates in us an awareness that only one thing is necessary, and everything else pales in importance in comparison. When God becomes the number one priority in our lives, then simplicity will have been realized in our hearts and in our actions.
 
The Discipline of Submission
Here’s a word that will raise most peoples’ hackles pretty quick. Humans are not naturally submissive (for confirmation of this, see the story of Adam and Eve). We think of “submission” as becoming a doormat for those around us. True submission, however, helps us move our focus from merely looking out for our own interests to looking out for the interests of others. It is less about not doing what is best for me, and more about doing what is best for others.
 
Practicing Submission
As always, Jesus leads the way regarding this discipline. In Luke 22:42 Jesus prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." Jesus did not focus on what was best for Him, but He did not deny His feelings or ignore them either. Still, His attention was focused on the will of His Father and what was best for all of those who belong to Him.
 
In Philippians 2:6-8 we also read about Jesus’ willingness to submit: “…who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” It is that spirit that we are called to have in ourselves.
 
In a world that tells us we can “have it all” and where self-denial is seen as harmful to our self-fulfillment, the choice to submit is foreign. But we are not of this world, and our Lord calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. We submit ourselves to Christ first and foremost, and then to our family, and finally to our church. In each case we strive to meet the needs of those around us rather than being consumed by our own needs.
 
What Submission Produces
Submission is mostly expressed through service. This week, yield yourself to God and be still before Him. Read God’s Word and submit to its authority as well. Listen to your family as they speak, looking for ways in which you can serve them in a godly way. Help someone in need, perhaps even giving up something you want or need in order to meet the needs of someone who has less. Choose to do something for your church that is outside your “comfort zone,” especially that which strikes you as beneath you. Help those, where ever they may be, who are broken and despised, who lack even the most basic things. You can do this quite easily through a program like Operation Christmas Child or one of the many other relief efforts sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse or Voice of the Martyrs. In doing so you will discover what submission produces: freedom. Freedom from agonizing over slights, real and imagined; freedom from having to have everything go your way; freedom from the tyranny of your own appetites and the temptation we have to focus on ourselves to the exclusion of all others. Submit, therefore, and be free.
 
The Discipline of Confession 
No one can forgive sins except for God, and when we need to receive forgiveness we receive it through His Son, who is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). But we are also admonished to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) because we have been given the authority to hear a fellow believer’s confession and then, in the name of Jesus (and by His authority, not our own), assure them of forgiveness (John 20:23) as priests of God (1 Peter 2:9). If there seems to be a lot of Scriptures referenced here, that’s because I want you to know that confessing our sins to one another, though foreign to us, is indeed biblically based. 
 
Practicing Confession
If we are to confess our sins to one another, we must begin by examining our conscience, asking God to reveal our sin to us. We can then go to that person and express godly sorrow, sharing our determination to avoid sin going forward with God’s help. Most of the time we are perfectly aware of our sin, but we want to be sure to take that knowledge before God and invite Him to reveal any other sin we may harbor to us. This is a matter of being silent and allowing God to speak so that we might discover that which stands between us and our Lord.
 
It is also necessary for us to have godly sorrow for our sin. That is what separated Peter and Judas. Both were sorrowful, but in Peter’s case it drove him to God; in Judas’ case it drove him away from God. Godly sorrow brings us before the Lord because we are repulsed by our sin and want it washed away.
 
Finally, when we confess we must do so with the intention of repenting -- of renouncing our sin, turning away from it, and turning toward God.
When someone confesses their sin to us we must not display a judgmental spirit or an imperious attitude. We, after all, are sinners who are also in need of forgiveness. It should be evident that any confession we hear is done in confidence. We should also do so with an attitude of prayer and bathe the entire process in prayer. We need to say no more than needs to be said and resist the temptation to know more detail than we need to know, receiving their confession in relative silence so they have the space they need to share that confession. Finally, whether giving or receiving confession, there should be a time of prayer to wrap things up. 
 
What Confession Produces
Confession is hard, but it produces both freedom and change. Sometimes when we sin, even if we have taken it to the Lord, that sin remains a burden. It can help to have another believer express God’s forgiveness verbally. It may also be necessary to confess our sin to those who have been directly impacted by it, both to receive their forgiveness and to make amends as needed. Confession also produces change: When God alone is aware of our sins we may have difficulty changing, but when another believer is aware of our sins -- especially habitual ones -- they can pray for our freedom and provide accountability as needed.
 
The Discipline of Guidance
Now we are entering what is, for many of us, uncharted territory. This is not the act of being guided by the Holy Spirit, which we are familiar with - it is the act, the conscious choice, of allowing our fellow Christians to speak into our lives, providing spiritual guidance and insight as we walk together toward eternity. It is also the conscious choice of allowing our covenant community as a whole to help direct our walk so that we might be built up together in Christ, growing in grace in order to more effectively share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world which is desperately in need of Him.
 
Practicing Guidance
Step one is to find a “guru,” such as myself, to whom you will give all of your worldly possessions and allow to dictate your going out and coming in. Ha! Just kidding. Probably. Actually, that fear is one of the things which keeps us from practicing guidance, but anything that results in such abuse is not from God at all. Jesus told us this in Matthew 20:25-28, where He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
 
Those who would give spiritual guidance must do so with a spirit of humility, recognizing their own weaknesses and limitations as they seek to lead another. That said, there are a couple of ways for you to allow others to provide guidance which will honor Jesus’ words:
 
Perhaps the most common form of spiritual guidance is nothing more “threatening” than preaching. If you stop to think about it (and assuming you are paying attention during sermons and not on your phone or thinking about what’s for lunch), your pastor provides spiritual guidance in a compact form on a weekly basis.
 
Beyond preaching, the easiest avenue to experiencing spiritual guidance is an accountability partner: Find a fellow Christian of the same sex whom you trust and respect and agree to speak into one another’s lives, seeking counsel and guidance from each other as you work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Develop a relationship of mutual submission in which you are free to point out not only the successes of your accountability partner, but his or her struggles. At the same time, open yourself to their guidance by admitting your struggles, confessing your sin, and sharing your success.
 
What Guidance Produces
Guidance leads to accountability, which in turn produces humility as we confront and grapple with our sinful nature. It also produces peace because we are able to share our burdens with someone, leaning on them for support and insight when the way becomes difficult. Finally, it produces joy as together we learn how to equip and be equipped for the journey as someone comes alongside us to share the way.