THE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES - JANUARY 21, 2018
Matthew 6:19 – 21 “Stop storing up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But keep on storing up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal, because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The word discipline is a swear word to some and a foreign concept to others! Why? Because normally we associate discipline with punishment for something done wrong! And so, the word generally has a negative connotation. Actually, the word means; ‘to apply a corrective action!’ It does not necessarily mean corporal punishment, but any action that will correct a wrong direction in life. Some also take it to mean that by being self-disciplined one is denied something desirable; ‘I have to be disciplined and stick to my diet and not eat the cake!’ Again, here a negative connotation is implied – giving up something nice for a stick of celery! Thankfully I love celery, especially with a big steak on it.
Unfortunately, we don’t often consider the positive side of being disciplined, of achieving something more than what we would otherwise have. It does take self-discipline to stick to our plans keeping our goal in mind – because I lived on celery for the last month my cholesterol has come down and I will live longer, and my life insurance will be cheaper. It does however also mean I will probably outlive my pension savings!
In this vein, the word discipline also refers to an action regularly undertaken or means by which we achieve a purpose. For us today, this is the understanding that needs to be at the forefront of our minds.
Looking to the year ahead our sole purpose as Christians should be to seek and be filled by God’s presence! Our whole energy should be for this purpose, knowing that if we achieve this we will be at peace with God, ourselves and others. There is not enough money in the world to buy such an existence.
The Spiritual disciplines are an essential means of achieving this goal! We need to know the various disciplines and be disciplined in our practice of them. So, until Easter we will learn more about spiritual discipline using Richard Foster’s book; ‘Celebration of discipline,’ as a resource and guide. You may already be exercising some or maybe many, of the disciplines, such as attending Sunday worship is a spiritual discipline.
Having just been on leave for two weeks and three Sundays I was reminded again how easy it is to simply stay at home. It is easier to remain there than it is to come to service. It takes a level of will and determination to get up early, get dressed and be here on time! The same applies to the other disciplines, it is easier not to do them than to organise, arrange, and forego other enticing opportunities than it is to exercise the discipline.
To encourage us we must constantly remind ourselves why we do what we do and believe what we believe! When we keep the bigger picture in the forefront of our minds it is encouraging and bolsters our determination.
So, before we go anywhere this year we all need to personally reflect on why we are here today? What do we seek, need or want? Having reminded ourselves we then need to take a hard look at our priorities, lifestyle and finances and ensure we are on the right track to what it is we desire.
My encouragement to you is to enter into this journey of discovering and exercising the Spiritual disciplines to the greatest extent possible because without them we are lost. Without them we will wander in the wilderness without a firm direction and it will be by pure luck should we achieve anything of what we desire. If we know what we want, are going in the right direction, and are resolute in our purpose, we will be virtually guaranteed of success.
The question remains; what do we want? Physical material things will never satisfy fully. They are nice to have but they soon lose their lustre and we want more or they need replacing. Do not for a moment think God does not know what you need, He knows better than you do what you truly need, and His promise is that He will supply it – many scriptures!
Today’s scripture reminds us that there are things we need to aspire to that will provide us that best in this life and the next – now wouldn’t those things really be worth something? We cannot take material things with us. Of course, we need some of them in this life, and God promises us enough of them. Our aim needs to be on far greater things that will not only mean a better life for ourselves, but also for those around us.
The Spiritual disciplines are a means of achieving the best for now and eternity. They open the door to God, liberation and all the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
They can be grouped into 3 main emphases;
- Inward disciplines
- Outward disciplines
- Corporate disciplines
Richard Foster explores 4 disciplines under each of these 3 emphases – equally 12 disciplines.
A last word of warning before we start! Do not turn the disciplines into absolute laws that have to all be exercised at all times by everyone. Recognise which you already exercise and give yourself a pat on the back. Then recognise who you are and which disciplines you wish to exercise next, take them one at a time. Some you may exercise at special times of the year more frequently than in general – fasting over lent!
Very soon, if you persist, you will find you are closer to God than before and will be encouraged by how wonderful the journey is to exercise more of the disciplines. And lastly, this list is not complete. There may be other disciplines better suited to you and your journey of faith, continue exercising those disciplines.
We always need things to help us on a journey, to guide, to enable and to make it more pleasant. On the journey of faith this is the task of the Spiritual Disciplines! Exercise them well!