Spiritual discipline doesn’t sound very exciting. Many Christians shy away from the disciplines because it sounds like work at best and legalism at worst. However, spiritual discipline is simply a name for the spiritual habits that a true follower of Jesus forms as he or she becomes more like Him. We want to follow Jesus and we know that He meditated on Scripture, spent time in prayer, and shared the Gospel with others, just to name a few. There are other disciplines that we can glean from the Bible that are important to consider as well.
But for the most part, these disciplines go neglected by the majority of church attenders. Does that make their Christianity suspect? No, it probably means that no one helped them to see the positive aspect of a disciplined life of faith. When we form regular habits, we need accountability. It’s the same thing when we form spiritual habits.
As a child I learned that I needed to brush my teeth, make my bed, not eat dirt, etc. No one would think my parents unfair or cruel for making me obey. Those were habits that my parents helped me form when I was a child. The disciplines are habits and we need help forming them in our lives. Not too many people have the inherent motivation to form a strong habit for themselves. As a child we had our parents help in showing us the habits that needed to be formed and the habits that needed to be broken. In our spiritual habits, we have the Body of Christ to help us but it takes initiative and responsibility on our part to come alongside immature believers and help them move toward spiritual maturity.
Pastors play a large role in equipping the saints and part of the equipping process should be the formation and spiritual growth of new believers. In order to be effective at fostering a Biblical understanding of the disciplines, the church leaders should first of all teach about them in a positive way. Secondly, leaders should model the disciplines and coach others in the process. Third, we should encourage accountability and fellowship in the Body so that there is a consistent venue for people to talk about their progress or lack thereof in a safe and open setting. Finally, we need to talk about the perils of not engaging in the disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the cost of NONdiscipleship (rather than Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship’). When we reject the foundational habits and activities of the Bible, we forsake the abundant life that Jesus has promised us.
So, we need to talk about spiritual disciplines, model them, hold people accountable to do them, and contrast the difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined spiritual life so that people can understand that these are not legalistic endeavors, but that they are helpful and fulfilling as we diligently follow our Master.
This is going to be a very personal and transparent post.
Today I had such a meaningful time with God that I wanted to share it with you to encourage you.
Every once in a while I like to read through large chunks of Scripture in one sitting. This week I had two separate conversations about that practice with friends. In addition to that already being on my mind, this morning I had such a hunger for the Word of God that I sat down and began reading.
I’m currently reading in the gospels but I feel God led me to Romans to read today. I read the first eight chapters in one sitting. I can’t describe to you the joy and amazement I felt as I spent that time worshiping God. I wasn’t just meditating or reading, I was worshiping. His Word came alive in a fresh way.
WHY DID GOD’S WORD COME ALIVE?
Because it was the Word of God.
Obviously, God Himself is the One who makes His Word come alive. The words aren’t the objects of our worship but they are inspired words because they cause me to worship the living God. Not only do the words persuade me to worship but God’s Spirit opens my heart and mind to understand what God is saying to me. Today, my spirit was renewed, my mind was informed, and my heart was softened simply because it was the Word of God and I was reading it.
I love reading books and sometimes an author makes a point that grips my heart or encourages me to live out my faith in a fresh way. Those are good books, but nothing compels me to worship God like the Bible.
Because I was alone with God.
As if God’s Word alone wasn’t enough, there were a few other things that really made my personal time of worship special. Solitude is something we often miss. I can have a great time of worship while reading the Bible at a coffee shop, but what if His Word causes me to jump for joy, weep, or sing? I’m just not that public with my emotions so even if I am moved by the Spirit I might just sit there in silence.
Today there were too places that I broke down and wept/gave thanks to God. After 64 verses of God’s wrath being “revealed from heaven against all godlessness and and unrighteousness” I came to “But now…” How inspiring and captivating are those words:
But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed – attested by the Law and the Prophets – that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24)
Reading Romans 5:1-8 brought the same kind of joyful and tearful response from my spirit:
For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person – though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! Romans 5:6-8)
I’ve heard these sections of Scripture quoted aloud in front of an audience and people shouted and applauded to hear God’s Word. Listening and meditating on God’s Word prompts a response. When we are in seclusion we can be free to respond with joy, laughter, tears, sorrow, or spontaneous eruptions of gratitude. It’s a bit harder to do that at Starbuck’s or even at home if your not alone in a closed door meeting with God.
Because I was reading aloud.
I heard God speak today. God’s Words came to my ears and I heard them. We can’t always read aloud but when we do it adds something. The benefit of reading aloud is that more of your senses are activated to really understand that God is speaking to you. I wasn’t just thinking in my head, I was hearing God speak. He used my voice and His words to speak Truth to my heart.
Again, not something you can really do at Starbuck’s.
Because I matched the tone of my voice to the mood of the passage.
I would encourage you, when you read God’s Word aloud, try to get a feel for the mood of the passage. When I was reading, “This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions…” or “There is no one righteous, not even one” I read it with a heavy heart. Those 64 verses of God’s wrath shouldn’t be read with a big smile on the face.
On the other hand, how would you read this: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I read that section more rapidly with excitement, not to be dramatic as if it were a performance, but because that’s how I felt.
Reading the Bible aloud while matching my tone to the mood helped me to really hear God’s intended message to my heart. I can really grasp the passion or the emotion of a verse in its context.
For example, we all know that Romans 3:23 is bad news when quoted by itself: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But when you realize that this verse is in the context of God revealing His righteousness to those who believe, the mood has changed. Romans 3:23 becomes a part of the good news because we realize that God knows our condition (we are sinful) and that He has taken steps to change that (those who are sinners and who fall short of God’s glory “are justified freely by His grace…”)
This is a cause for celebration! When you read aloud the context, and match your tone to the mood, insights like that spring out of the text and into your heart. God’s Word is alive if we let Him speak to us.
Because of my choice in translation.
Okay, so this one is more preferential than the others. Some enjoy the beauty of the old King James language and that causes the Word to come alive. Others really like the readability of the NIV or the NLT. Still others are appreciative of the accuracy of the NASB or the ESV.
Since I’m describing my own personal experience, I can share that the Holman Christian Standard Bible removes a lot of barriers that might keep my devotions from being more inspirational. I’m not tripping over the grammar or stumbling over “thees” and “thous” but at the same time, the HCSB is also very accurate and less theologically motivated than other translations.
So, all of that to say, find a good translation that you are comfortable with and allow God to speak to you. I’ve found the HCSB to be a reliable choice but my point here is simply that you should find a translation for yourself that allows you to hear the Word of God.
How many chapters are there in the Bible?
What really struck me today after I was finished reading and after sitting there quietly for a few moments was that I had only read eight chapters. If I read that many chapters each day it would take me 5 months to read the entire Bible. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible and I was overwhelmed after only reading 8! There are 1,181 MORE chapters just waiting for me to turn to them and feast on them. And I had read those chapters before and had been inspired and encouraged by them. The feast is always in front of us. I have the rest of my life in front of me to either squander by ignoring God’s Word, or to spend wisely by listening to and meditating on the very thoughts and will of God.
Is God’s Word really living and active? I can’t say that it always feels that way, but on days like today I’m reminded of the power of God and the truth of His Word.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled. (Mt 5:6)
What are the practices you have when spending time alone with God that makes those moments rich and inspiring?