PROJECT DEEPER: The Outward Disciplines

Project Deeper: The Outward Disciplines

Last week we examined the four inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study. This week we turn our attention to another group of four classical disciplines that provide us opportunities for spiritual growth and transformation. When this series is over we will publish a list for you to have all of the disciplines on a card of some kind so that you can remember them. You also need to know that these are not necessarily meant to be practiced in totality. We are not suggesting that you take all these on at once or that even if you do it will make you some kind of super Christfollower. Any growth you experience because of practicing spiritual disciplines will come in cooperation with the assistance and help of the Holy Spirit.

For today’s study we look at these four: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission and Service

Remember that the classical disciplines are not to become works of salvation in our lives. They are rather to become expressions of our continual desire to become godlier and to grow in our relationship with Christ.

“As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.  2 I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?” Psalm 42:1-2 NLT

1. Simplicity

The Christian discipline of Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style. It is critical when we embrace simplicity as a lifestyle that we have both inward and outward simplicity. To profess to possess inward simplicity and it not be manifested in your outward life is impossible. On the contrary, to just possess outward simplicity leads to legalism and that is deadly to your soul. When you possess inward simplicity you will experience outward liberty.

Your conversations will become truthful and honest. Your desire and even lust for status and position will disappear. You will cease from having to be the center of attention when you enter the room. You will detest extravagance not because you can’t afford it but on the grounds of a moral principle.  Simplicity puts what we own or our possessions in proper perspective.

Richard E. Byrd recorded in his journal after months alone in the barren Arctic: “I am learning . . . that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.” 

13 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

 14 The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him. 

15 Then he said to them, “You like to appear righteous in public, but God knows your hearts. What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God.” Luke 16:13-15

The central teaching of the discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of His kingdom first and then everything else will fall into the proper order. 

Ten observations from Richard Foster: 

• Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. (cars, houses, clothes)

• Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. (Refuse to be a slave to anything) 

• Develop a habit of giving things away. (Thoreau: Simplify, simplify  De-accumulate the stuff you have stored) 

• Refuse to be taken in by gadget propaganda (Timesaving devices rarely save time.) 

• Learn to enjoy things without owning them 

• Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation

• Do not buy into the idea of “buy now and pay later.” 

• Obey Jesus words about plain honest speech. 

• Develop a social conscious and reject anything that takes advantage of or oppresses others. 

• Shun evil or anything that would distract you away from God.

Try to relate to some of these stats:
• Americans constitute 5% of the world's population but consume 24% of the world's energy.
• On average, one American consumes as much energy as
o 2 Japanese
o 6 Mexicans
o 13 Chinese
o 31 Indians
o 128 Bangladeshis
o 307 Tanzanians
o 370 Ethiopians 

• The population is projected to increase by nearly 130 million people - the equivalent of adding another four states the size of California - by the year 2050. 

• Americans eat 815 billion calories of food each day - that's roughly 200 billion more than needed - enough to feed 80 million people. 

• Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily. 

• The average American generates 52 tons of garbage by age 75. 

• The average individual daily consumption of water is 159 gallons, while more than half the world's population lives on 25 gallons. 

• Every day an estimated nine square miles of rural land are lost to development.
source: Paul Ehrlich and the Population Bomb

Living the life of simplicity is a willingness to live below your means. It is a commitment to downward mobility. It is a resistance to the notion that when we acquire more money that automatically our lifestyle must go up a notch. People who live like this never get off the treadmill of spending to the limit. Everything becomes relative. They make a lot of money but they spend a lot of money and therefore live with the same tensions they had when their income was smaller.


Simplicity is a commitment to restraint. 
2. Solitude

“The fear of being left alone petrifies people. A new child in the neighborhood sobs to his mother, “No one ever plays with me.” A college freshman yearns for her high school days when she was the center of attention, “Now I’m a nobody.” A business executive sits dejected in his office, powerful, yet alone. Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds.”  (Foster)

Loneliness or clatter are not our only alternatives. If we practice the discipline of solitude we can cultivate an inner quietness and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear.

Jesus practiced inner solitude. He not only practiced heart solitude but He frequently experienced outward solitude. He spent forty days alone in the desert. He spent entire nights alone in prayer. When He received the news about John the Baptists death, He “withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart.” (Matt. 14:13) After the miracle of feeding the 5000 He made His disciples leave; then He dismissed the crowd and “went up into the hills by Himself” (Matt. 14:23)

Over and over in the gospel story of the life of Jesus He withdrew from the crowds and spend time alone.

I quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer without apology because it’s hard to find a better source for thinking that goes beyond the Christian Pop writing that is sold in most bookstores these days.

He wrote: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . .Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. . . .Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear. Under the discipline of solitude we learn when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.

Practicing silence. . .

There is a time in the life of every serious Christfollower when he or she will experience a time of spiritual separation. St. John of the Cross referred often to “the dark night of the soul.” These times when we don’t “feel” God’s presence our times of great learning and stretching of our faith. It is in these moments when we hang onto our faith in God even without the emotional connection that we emerge later on as strengthened in our faith and resolve. What does the “dark night” feel like? It may be a sense of spiritual dryness, depression, even a feeling of lostness.” It strips us of an overdependence of living on our emotions.

“When God lovingly draws us into a dark night of the soul, there is often a temptation to blame everyone and everything else for our inner dullness and to seek release from it. The preacher is such a bore. The worship service is weak. We may begin to look around for another church or a new experience to give us “spiritual goose bumps.” That is a serious mistake. Recognize the dark night for what it is. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see Him. Become still and wait.” (Foster)

“Who among you fears the LORD  and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light trust in the LORD”  ISAIAH 50:10

Find a place where you can practice solitude. It may be a place in your home. It may be a place in your car when you are driving. It may be on the treadmill when you work out or on a walk in the woods, but find a place to practice solitude.

3. Submission

“Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Mark 8:34 NLT

One has to be very careful talking about this discipline. There are large amounts of abuse that are tied into the preaching or teaching of submission to God. We would do well to remember that the disciplines have no value in and of themselves. They have value only as a vehicle or means to set us before God so that we might experience His transforming power.

Submission has a freedom with it that might be surprising to you. While the thought of submission seems like surrender there is a freedom that comes along with surrender. Richard Foster writes about it this way:

“It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. The obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in human society today. People will spend week, months, even years in a perpetual stew because some little thing did not go as they wished. They will fuss and fume. They will get mad about it. They will act as if their very life hangs on the issue.

In the discipline of submission we are released to drop the matter, to forget it.”

There is no more neglected teaching than the idea of self-denial. We don’t want to hear it or hear about it. We would rather not know that it is a vital part of Christfollowing. Over and over we are called in the Bible to deny our selves. Not once to we ever hear the call to self indulgence. Not once do we ever see or hear Jesus promoting the “its all about you” notion that we seem to be living with today. Self denial releases us from self-pity.

The most radical of Jesus’ teachings was His total reversal of the contemporary notion of greatness. Leadership is found in becoming the servant of all. Power is discovered in submitting to others. The life of denying ones self and picking up the cross, does away with the idea of power and self interest.

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” Mark 9:33-35 NLT

Acts of submission:

We submit to God
We submit to His Word
We submit in our family
We submit in our communities
We submit in our faith community
We submit by serving. . .

4. Service

As the cross is the sign of submission, the towel is the sign of service.

The story is found in John’s gospel.

“Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.[a] 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas,[b] son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. 

 6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 

 7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” 

 8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
   Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” 

 9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” 

 10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet,[c] to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 

 12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.”
John 13:1-17 

We are all called to serve but we need to be very careful about serving and need to make sure that we are doing it for the right reasons. 

Self-righteous service comes through human effort.
Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.”
Self-righteous service requires external rewards.
Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results or reaction of others
Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve.

Service is a way of life. The discipline to serve is sign of a healthy spiritual work ethic. You want to give back. Having grown up around church all my life I can’t imagine not serving. I can imagine there are always going to be people around who don’t serve because that is just the way it is but personally I can’t imagine not serving. Do you know what serving roles I often like the best? Some of you may think that I must find it a wonderful thing to stand up here and preach or teach. I am grateful and humbled by the doors God has opened in my life but this is not where I enjoy serving. You can find joy in the most mundane things when God is in it. I used to enjoy taking down and setting up chairs when we had a Saturday evening service here. I loved working with a team of people. Some of our spring mulching and clean up days have been times of hard work but conversations have come out of those times that would have never been enjoyed if all I did was stand up here week after week.

Sometimes I am afraid we put all the emphasis on the absolute wrong things. Things that God could care less about! Let me give you an example. Do you think it is greater in God’s eyes to be up here parading around your musical talent or downstairs leading and using that same talent in leading Kid City worship? I would venture to say that most of us in this room have been conditioned to think the most important people are up in front of the largest audiences. Nothing could be further from the teaching of Jesus Christ.

Do you remember the scripture in Mark 9:

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” Mark 9:33-35 NLT

Here’s the rest of it:  “Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf[h] welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” Mark 9:36-37 NLT

There's a deeply moving story about Samuel Logan Brengle, an American Methodist pastor. In 1848 William Booth's Salvation Army was enlisting men from all over the world, and Brengle felt called to cross the Atlantic and offer his services. A successful minister in a fine church, he gave up everything in obedience to this call. At first, the General accepted him grudgingly and reluctantly. "You've been your own boss for too long," he said. To "instil humility" into him, Booth set Brengle to work cleaning the boots of other trainees. Brengle said to himself, "Have I followed my own fancy across the Atlantic in order to black boots?" (He had once dreamed of being a bishop. He had given up so much!). Then, as in a vision, he saw his Lord bending over the feet of rough, unlettered fishermen - and washing their feet. "Lord," he whispered, "You washed their feet; I will black their boots".
There's an Asian proverb, "The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bends". The higher a person is in grace, the lower he'll be willing to stoop to serve others. The lower he'll be in his own self-esteem.
The risen Christ beckons us to the ministry of the towel.
He calls us to the disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission and service.

“ Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NLT