From discipline to practice to rhythm

Several years ago Richard Foster wrote a book titled Celebration of Discipline. It’s really a classic when it comes to Christian discipleship and I’ve often used it as a resource not only for my own growth, but when teaching and training others. But a few years ago I became aware of resistance to that word “discipline” as I work with younger generations. The word feels stern and slightly oppressive in this milieu, more like punishment than something desirable or helpful, and definitely not cause for celebration!

While it has seemingly developed a negative connotation for many, discipline really is not bad word. In fact, scripture has much good to say about the necessity of discipline for our healthy growth and development. Discipline doled out in excessively punitive measure is a reason for the word’s bad rep and, as we are often inclined to do, the good is thrown out with the bad as we delete the word from our vocabulary!

Spiritual disciplines, however, are not intended to be punitive. They are, and always will be, necessary for the Christian who desires spiritual maturity. Daily Bible reading, prayer, fasting, service, worship, and so on are essential nutrients for growing up into Christlikeness, which is God’s ultimate purpose for us (Romans 8:29). In the beginning of our faith journey, however, it can require a fair amount of effort to engage in these activities–hence the reference to “disciplines.” We must discipline ourselves to adopt these essential rituals.

After some time of consistent effort, however, we find that the disciplines have become practices. The word “practices” doesn’t carry the weight that “disciplines” does, and so we probably don’t think of these acts as quite so laborious.. While they may no longer require as self-discipline as they originally did, intentionality is still key to taking them to the next level: sacred rhythms.

Rhythm: a strong, regular, repeated pattern. What began as a discipline requiring much effort and intentionality eventually becomes a practice in which we more easily engage, then ultimately it becomes a rhythm that is so strong in our life of faith that is sacred–time and attention set apart regularly and repeatedly for the service and worship of God. We know its become a sacred rhythm when we can’t imagine going a day, week, month, or year without it…when we make sure it’s on our calendar (e.g., a day of silence and solitude or an annual retreat) or when it marks the time of day for us (e.g., praying the hours).

Can you identify disciplines in which you have engaged that no longer require heroic effort? Do they feel more like practices than disciplines? And are there practices that have become so essential to your spiritual maturation that you can’t imagine life without them? Those sacred rhythms are definitely worthy of celebration!

If you want to learn more about spiritual disciplines, practices, and/or sacred rhythms, here are three excellent resources

 

It’s Not Enough

Have you ever noticed the word “all” in Ephesians 4:13?

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

Altogether too often I am tempted to read Paul’s letters as though they were written to one individual (namely me) rather than to a church full of people. I know I am not alone in this approach to reading the Epistles, which can be an obstacle to the kind of selfless service to others to which Christ calls us. It is so easy to be deceived into thinking that being a disciple of Christ is all about me and my spiritual maturity. That attitude, however, is a testament to immaturity, the very state I am struggling to rise above!

The whole point of this passage is that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers are to equip all the people for the work of ministry–that is, serving others–for the building up of the whole body, not just one or two or a dozen individuals. What’s more, Paul makes it abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 12 that every believer has a role to play, that service to others is the name of the game when it comes to following Christ and being part of His body. I really don’t see Paul making any provision for the “it’s all about me” mentality prevalent in today’s culture!

If I were to stand before Christ today and point to my spiritual maturity, there is no doubt in my mind that He would say something along the lines of, “Well, I’m pleased that you are maturing, Andee. But it’s not enough. There are so many who don’t yet have knowledge of Me, so many who are stuck in their maturation. It is good that you have matured, but it won’t be enough until all have matured! How are you helping others to grow?”

I love how Eugene Peterson renders this passage in The Message:people_are_the_church.20682523

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

It’s time the church awakens to the fact that we are together one body–not a collection of individual units, each responsible only for himself or herself. It’s not enough that I concern myself only with my spiritual maturity. My maturity benefits the person next to me. His maturity benefits me. Only when we are growing together is the body functioning as it is meant to. Only then can we be fully alive like Christ. Only then will Christ say, “Yes! This is enough!”

I know I need to worry a little less about my spiritual maturity and focus on how I can come alongside others to encourage their growth. How about you?