The Disciplines 101
Richard Foster begins his now classic book, Celebration of Discipline, with these words:
“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 intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”
There are certain disciplines of the spiritual life that call and move us beyond a superficial lifestyle to one of genuineness and authenticity.
We refer to these disciplines as classical disciplines because they have been practiced by men and women for centuries and time and time again have been shown to deepen one’s sincerity regarding their relationship with Jesus Christ.
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
“Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. 8 “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” I Timothy 4:7-8
“Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.” G.K. Chesterton
Discipline has a high price tag. It costs us something. But let me be quick to remind you that there is a high cost for non-discipleship as well. Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition.”
Perdition is not a word we use much so let me define it. It means the state of final spiritual ruin, damnation or loss of the soul.
Proverbs 13:15 says, “Good understanding wins favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard.”
Dallas Willard states, “To depart from righteousness is to choose a life of crushing burdens, failures and disappointments, a life caught in the toils of endless problems that are never resolved.”
Sin is not just a personal problem it is the greatest problem of the human race. All the heartbreak of this world can be laid at the foot of sinfulness and disobedience to God.
How then can we overcome any sin that might be destroying our lives?
There are some dangers that I should warn you about when we talk about adding disciplines to your life.
One of them is be careful to not think that you can “will power” your sin away. Our wills our strong and our resolve can be really great at times however without the power of the Holy Spirit and reliance on God in the process ultimately our efforts will be in vain.
You might be able to control your body physically through cutting back on eating and adding exercise on a regular basis but when it comes to spiritual growth we must rely on the Holy Spirit and a continual relationship with the Lord.
The spiritual disciplines are only a vehicle to aid us in drawing closer to God. They are not placing back on us the works of our salvation. We are saved by grace and grace alone but there are certain disciplines that we can train our souls to engage in that will when practiced draw us into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. This of course will have the effect of aiding us in the fight against temptation and will empower us for unhindered service in God’s Kingdom right here on earth.
We need to make sure that we worship only the Lord and not our will’s or our ability to practice discipline in our spiritual lives.
Today I want to share three metaphors with you that describe what spiritual disciplines look like.
“Don't be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.” Gal. 6:7-8 The Message
We all know that in a few weeks farmers will begin to till the ground or make preparations to plant seeds into the ground so that by fall they can reap a harvest. Yes Spring is around the corner. The point is that all the farmer can do is plant the grain in the right conditions and then let natural forces take over. There must be sunshine and rain for the seed to grow.
When it comes to spiritual disciplines it is the same process. We are sowing or planting to the Spirit. The disciplines are God’s way of getting us into the ground where He can work within us and transform us. By themselves the disciplines can achieve nothing but they can get us to a place where something can be done in our lives.
When you and I commit ourselves to practice spiritual disciplines we are placing ourselves in a place where God can truly begin to change the way we live out our lives on this earth.
Grace is free but has Bonhoeffer wrote, “Grace is free but not cheap.” Grace is unearnable yet it does not preclude our efforts to place ourselves in a place where we choose a course of action that leads us closer to God.
Again Richard Foster describes it like this: “Picture a narrow ledge with a sheer drop off on either side. The chasm to the right is moral bankruptcy through human striving for righteousness.” The chasm to the left is moral bankruptcy through the lack or absence of human striving! The path then is one of spiritual discipline. It is a pathway of challenges and obstacles but filled with joy as well. This path does not produce change but puts us in a place where change can occur.
(use the white board to illustrate: Liberalism, Legalism and Liberty)
When allowing ourselves to be planted like a seed in the ground we are in essence saying to God, “grow me up in your image.”
“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” Matthew 6:30-33 The Message
The key phrase in this scripture is “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative and God-provisions.
This is a time when the thoughts of many turn to baseball. Already the “boys of summer” are in Florida or Arizona in spring training. This is a time of conditioning to prepare for a long season of games. I have been spending time away from the basketball court and in the fitness room at the YMCA. What you see there are people committed to practicing the disciplines of getting fit. It is really fascinating to see the different dynamics and the different levels of commitment to the process.
We have all seen kids and teenagers who idolize a professional ball player. They want to run or pitch or hit just like their hero. What do they do? When they are playing in a baseball game, they all try to behave exactly as their favorite baseball star does. The star may be well known for sliding head first into bases, so that’s what the kid will try to do. The star holds his bat high above his head so that’s what the kid does too. They will do anything to be like the star they are idolizing. They will buy the shoes they wear, the same brand of glove or the same bat.
Will they succeed? Probably not. A person who achieves at a professional level is person that doesn’t just perform at game time. A person who achieves greatness in sports is a person who chooses a life and lifestyle of preparation of both mind and body.
The abilities we all watch and admire from our comfortable chairs and couches are not produced because they are playing the game but because they have spent hours unseen training and disciplining themselves. A proper diet, exercise and rest are not part of the game itself but they are critical to the success of the athlete when the game is on.
What you discover with this metaphor is a general principle of human life. It is true for the public speaker, the musician, the teacher or the surgeon. A successful performance at a moment of crisis rests largely and essentially upon the depths of a self wisely and rigorously prepared.
We are saved by grace of course, and by it alone but grace does not mean that sufficient strength and insight will be automatically “infused” into our being in the moment of need.
A baseball player who expects to excel in the game without adequate exercise of his body is no more ridiculous than the Christian or Christ follower who hopes to be able to act in the manner of Christ when put to the test without appropriate exercise in godly living.
Following in Christ’s steps cannot be equated with behaving as He did when He was on the spot or “in the game.” (WWJD) ( In His Steps story) Wearing a bracelet did very little to make people like Christ.
You and I cannot just want to change and will it to be so. Someone once well stated that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We intend to do right but we avoid or refuse the life that would make it a reality in our lives.
Illustration: Some people would like to pay their bills and be financially responsible, but they are unwilling to lead the kind of sacrificing life it takes to achieve that. We erroneously believe that we should always have what we want when we want it. I really think there are people who just spend and figure that when they die they won’t have to be in debt anymore.
There are people who would like friends and an interesting social life but will not adapt themselves so that they become the kind of people for whom such things “come naturally.”
In our world, we lament the problem’s of today tragic sexual abuses and behaviors yet for years we have allowed sex to dominate advertising, art, journalism and the media at such depraved levels that now we have a country obsessed with the subject and hooked and addicted to all kinds of evil. You think sexual deviancy outside of the sacredness of marriage is harmless? I would encourage you to think again. We are paying a huge price as a nation because of a lack of discipline in this area.
M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, writes. “ There are many people I know who possess a vision of personal evolution yet seem to lack the will for it. They want and believe it is possible, to skip over the discipline, to find an easy shortcut to sainthood. Often they attempt to attain it by imitating the superficialities of saints, retiring to the desert or taking up carpentry. Some even believe that by such imitation they have really become saints and prophets, and are unable to acknowledge that they are still children and face the painful fact that they must start at the beginning and go through the middle.”
When we try to avoid the necessary pains of discipline we miss the easy yoke and light burden and fall into the unending frustration of trying to do and be the Christfollower we know we ought to be without the strength and insight that only spiritual discipline can provide.
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 2 Peter 1:4 KJV
“And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” 2 Peter 1:4 NLT
We are called to partake in the divine nature of God. We are invited to share in His divine nature and escape the corruption caused by human desire.
I am suggesting to you today that there is a way to live immersed in the presence of Jesus to the point that you don’t have to worry about what is on the inside of you coming out. We all know people that are like little ticking bombs and you never know when they are going to go off and show themselves and their inner nature. They explode and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt around them.
We are a Nazarene church and while that doesn’t mean much in the way or method we choose to employ or share the message of Good News it does mean something historically regarding what we have believed a part of Christ’s body.
We believe in holiness. You can almost see people wince when you say this because of abuses in the past. The fact remains that you cannot read the word of God and get around the fact that all Chrsitfollowers have to deal with the message of full surrender at some time in their journeys.
When we place ourselves in a place to receive the fullness of the Spirit and enjoy the sanctified life we find that we don’t have to worry about what is going to come out in a moment of frustration or anger. We come to realize that through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit we are becoming like Christ. No longer are we known as a hot head or a person who goes around hurting others with their words and actions. Instead of a bitter spirit bubbling up from with within we discover that God wants to replace our spirit with His divine nature. Divine love enters our lives and takes over our habits and response to life. In unguarded moments there is something far sweeter that flows out of us then what used to be there before we were transformed in the image of Christ.
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.” Galatians 5:19-26
Oswald Chambers wrote, “The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us.”
Remember no one ever says if you want to be a great athlete go pole vault 18 feet and run a mile in four minutes. No one ever says, “if you want to be a great musician go play the Beethoven violin concerto.” Instead we advise the young to enter into a life of discipline and devotion, of deep associations with qualified people, and a rigorous schedule of time, diet and activities for the mind and body.
It is to this we call you in this Lenten season. We call you practice the disciplines so that you might enter in to the life Christ intended for us to live. Let this time transform you from the inside out.
Now let me tell you of another challenge we are calling you to.
Bloodwater Mission video.
“Everyone thinks of changing humanity and no one thinks of changing himself.”
-- Leo Tolstoy