Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thoughts on the Spiritual Disciplines

[This collection of thoughts on the spiritual disciplines first appeared in a series of random thoughts on Facebook. They are collected here and will be edited and expanded throughout 2013.

The faculty of our seminary have agreed to produce a book on the spiritual disciplines. I have agreed to be co-edit the book, along with Dr. Sang-Ehil Han. The target date for completion is next spring with publication next summer. Although I have taught on the disciples for decades, I have been thinking a lot about them since accepting this assignment.]

1. The spiritual disciplines are those personal Christian practices that are acts of worship and means of grace. Through them we express our faith and open ourselves to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. They include all of the Scriptural activities whereby persons knowingly share in the life and purposes of God. The best known of these are prayer, fasting, Bible reading and study. The list includes submission, confession, meditation, acts of benevolence, and Christian service, etc.. These should not be thought of as mere rituals of self-denial; they are intended to be avenues of fellowship with God. They are exercises whereby faith is discovered, remembered, renewed, and expressed. They are activities of listening for, discerning, and responding to the voice of God. JDJ # 130

2. If the spiritual disciplines are to bear fruit in our lives, they must be practiced as acts of worship. This requires that at the core of all of the disciplines be active meditation on the presence of God within the practice of the discipline, meditation that is joined with a conscious desire to honor and glorify Him. Worship also requires a consciousness of our selves before God. Spirit-filled worship is in its essence a state of being in which we know ourselves knowing God (“Abba Father”) and being known by Him. This worship is an experiential re-member-ing of our union with God in Christ. Through the disciplines as acts of worship we anticipate and celebrate the strengthening of our union with Christ. In other words, the disciplines are means of grace but not mediators of grace; they do not cause God’s favor. They are tools for creating an inner environment for unmediated communion with God through Christ, an environment conducive for worship, fellowship, formation, transformation, and the reception of God’s good gifts. JDJ #143

3. The spiritual disciplines are means of grace. This is not to say that grace is automatically imputed to us when we practice a discipline. That would be a form of “works righteousness” or earning God’s blessings. It is to say that when practiced with a sincere desire to know God better one should expect to know God better. His grace abounds toward those who seek Him and seek to please Him. JDJ #144

4. The practice of the spiritual disciplines, like all of the Christian life, is always personal but never private. Some of the disciplines by their very nature require that others participate with us (confession, submission, etc); many are best done in solitude (silence, meditation, etc). But the disciplines are communal in their very nature. Our life in Christ is a shared life. When we withdraw from others in order to draw near to Christ we are in fact drawing near to all who are in Christ. The grace that we receive in the practice of the disciplines, like all grace, is intended to flow through us to others. The disciplines must always be practiced as exercises in receiving and in giving; they are exercises in being joined both to Christ and His body. JDJ #145

5. The disciplines are events of remembering and testifying. By their very nature they embody aspects of our faith and they recall the stories of our faith. Through them we rehearse what we believe. We fast, we pray, we confess, we submit, we study, we show mercy, etc. because through these disciplines we remember who we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed. And in re
membering we bear witness to the truth that is in us. Because they are done in Christ and not just toward Christ, through the disciplines we are salt and light set on a hill; in them we are extensions of the ministry of Christ. In the practice of the disciplines we touch the world and our witness is made more effectual.

6. Love for God should be at the heart of our practice of all of the disciplines. They are means of renewing and consummating our union with Him. As such, they are not burdensome; they are life-giving. JDJ #152

7. The spiritual disciplines should not be thought of as a means to an end, i.e., if I practice this discipline God will bless me. The end is contained in the means. The disciplines are a way of being, a form of knowledge which merges thinking and doing. The Greeks called this type of knowledge praxis. There are some things that can only be known through a fusion of reflection and action. This is the knowledge of creative engagement with the world as expressed in activities such as sculpting, riding a bike, playing a musical instrument. In this type of knowing the conceptual and the actual (or behavioral) are united as a single event. The disciplines should be approached as praxis with God, or entering into God’s praxis. They should be experienced as what I call theopraxis, or knowing God in His encounter with His creation. Through the disciplines we can be united with God as He intentionally engages His Trinitarian self and our world through His reflective action. JDJ #153

8. By approaching the disciplines as theopraxis we exercise our faith that we are indeed joined with God in Christ. We pray with and in Him, We fast with and in Him. We meditate with and in Him. We submit with and in Him. In His divinity and in His humanity Jesus fulfilled what it means to be a person of spiritual discipline. It was as both that He fasted for forty days. It was as both that He withdrew for prayer on many occasions. As both He submitted to the Father and to others. The disciplined life is the way of Christ, Son of God, Son of Man. We should not practice the disciplines as some form of preparation for future transformation into the image of Christ; we should practice them because they are the form and motion of His image. In other words, we should not practice the disciplines in preparation for the future, we should practice the disciplines as a way of knowing God in the present, an expression of what we are and what we are becoming. In the disciplines we follow Him, are joined to Him, are transformed into His likeness, and we extend His life and presence in the world. JDJ #154