The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation
“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people”
And thus opens Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. I began reading this book back in college, and judging from my underlining work, I did not make it very far in. I wanted to include it in my devotional readings this year in an effort to help myself grow deeper and become one of those that Foster refers to. Not more intelligent, not more gifted, but deep. Deep in my faith, in my walk with my savior.
The Spiritual Disciplines are not something we hear of very often today. Sure the 30 Hour Famine has made fasting popular, and prayer is talked about all the time. But what do we ever mention about simplicity and solitude? Or submission and service? Confession? Guidance? The modern American church seems to have successfully created a belief that the Christian life consisted of simply following after Christ (which to a point is indeed true), but there are directions to help us in how we follow Him. Foster makes the argument here that the Disciplines are not what will grow us, but they are what will place us before God so that He can grow us. Foster writes very clearly on the thin line we walk: We cannot do anything to save ourselves (or grant ourselves sanctification), yet we have to do something to draw closer to God. The Disciplines are in place for that. They plant us in the soil so that God can tend to us.
Foster also calls to light the idea that the word discipline immediately brings to mind imagery and thoughts of dull drudgery that is designed to eliminate joy and laughter. The soul that is disciplined is a soul that is liberated from slavery to fear and self-interest. It is this self-interest and the idea that we have to do work that combines to create another falsehood: We cannot eradicate our sinfulness.
It was very refreshing and encouraging to me to read that we cannot eliminate our sins. We can make every effort, and we can strive to flee from sinful temptations (and we should), but unless God is in charge we will fail. Foster compares our lives to the ocean. We have a sinful nature. The natural motion of our lives kicks up the dirt and sediment that is sin in our lives. We do not need to do anything to create it, it is already there. We need to be careful of being so confident in our own willpower to resist a sin that we do not give into “will worship.” If we are not putting our full trust in Christ to eliminate the sin from our lives, we will continue to fall into it time after time. This is where the Spiritual Disciplines can aid us. They can place us at God’s feet, asking Him to do His work within us. They open the door into our souls for Him to do so much more than if we merely said a prayer and did not think any more of it. His gift of grace is totally free, but it is not cheap. To grow in our Spiritual lives, we must devote time and energy to them. Just as we would study for other fields, we must be willing to put real effort into our growth as Christians.
I am excited to see where God leads my reading of Celebration of Discipline this time around. I already see that I will need to make some large changes in my life to give adequate time to studying and employing the Disciplines. And that is a good thing. I feel like over the years I have taken my faith for granted, and I am excited (and perhaps a little bit scared) to see what is next.