Today we are going to begin a new preaching series on the importance and purpose of Spiritual Disciplines. And we are going to start by looking at a few inward spiritual practices we can adopt and implement in our lives that can help progress and deepen our spiritual growth.
A Pill For Everything!
Now a days it seems there is a pill for everything. You hurt? Take a pill. You have allergies? Take a pill. Want to gain more muscle mass? Take a pill. Want to lose weight? Take a pill. Depressed? Take a pill. Need to relax? Take a pill. Taking a pill for some situations is a very good thing. Those pills that have been created for medicinal purposes, by and large are very effective and wonderful creations. But there is not a pill for everything.
Journalist Bob Garfield specializes in reporting on the quirky and unique aspects of human nature. When Garfield traveled through Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1992, he thought that he'd hit the mother lode of quirkiness. He met people from all walks of life who were trying to find healing or wholeness through such things as aura-balancing, drum-beating ceremonies, ancient mystical therapies, crystals, astrology, spiritual channeling, and the like. Even in a Santa Fe health food store, Garfield found some highly unusual approaches to medicine. Rather than containing the average mix of vitamins and herbs, this store offered vitamin and herb mixes called, "Luminous Spirit, Positive Attitude, Women's Courage, Emotional Rescue, Clearing Hate, Clearing Greed, Humiliation, (and) Children of Divorce."
If only we could find emotional rescue or spiritual growth in a pill! But it's not as easy as taking a pill. And that is what I want us to focus on for the next few weeks. What are a few practices, habits, disciplines that we can adopt and incorporate into our lives that will help grow spiritually, help us deepen our faith, help come to a closer walk with God.
The Role of Disciplines
Many of us have habits and routines that we follow, rituals that we have committed ourselves too. Coffee and a puzzle in the morning, certain exercise routines, specific ways we prepare ourselves to begin and get through our hectic days are all things we adopt and meticulously follow to bring us peace, order, and confidence.
Well there are things we can adopt to strengthen the spiritually in our lives as well. Richard J. Foster wrote a book called, The Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, and in this book he writes about the importance of spiritual disciplines. He says that, “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”.1
In this culture we have been conditioned for the quick fix, the easy answer, the solution in an easy to swallow pill like form. But I am here today to tell you that will not work. Any of you that have tried it, know that any short term gain you might experience is not realized in the long term. However, this does not mean that spiritual growth, true, deep, bountiful, spiritual growth is difficult. It is not difficult because God wants you to succeed. This growth just takes courage and commitment. Now one caveat that I want all of us to understand is that practicing spiritual disciplines is not just for the popes, bishops, pastors, or religious heavyweights. “God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns. In fact, Disciplines are best exercised in the midst of our relationships with our husband or wife, our brothers and sisters, our friends and our neighbors.”2 Any of us can practice these and they were intended for all of us because God wants to be in relationship with all of us.
How Do We Get It?
So what practices can we adopt to gain this spiritual growth and relationship I speak of? I am so glad you asked! There are many that you can add to the list but I want us to focus on just a few this morning.
The basis, the one inward practice that is foundational to practice, is prayer. Prayer is that lifeline, the communication channel that we have between us and our Creator, between us and our Savior. “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.”3 And that transformation, that change will cause us be more like God by making God's views, our views, God's attractions, our attractions. The things God longs for and desires will be what we long for and desire.
With that understanding of the importance of prayer, how should we practice it? One way is to talk about duration. “Martin Luther declares, 'I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.' John Wesley says, 'God does nothing but in answer to prayer' and backed up his conviction by devoting two hours daily to that sacred exercise.”4 Prayer can be time consuming endeavor. Now many of you have heard me say start small. I still believe that, but the operative word there is start. Start there, do not end there. As your prayer life grows, so will the time you spend there. Do not fret if at the beginning it is short, it will grow. I promise you.
Another way to look at prayer is what do we pray for. Our second Scripture lesson this morning gives us some insight on that. Listen again, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:13-16, NRSV). In that passage we are given guidance about what to pray for; emotions, situations, healing, forgiveness, others. Pray for anything, pray for everything. Again, as you prayer life progresses, so will your confidence. Remember God's will will become your will, God's desires will become your desires. Just pray!
Also, how should we pray. Prayer can and should be done in many ways. Prayer can be done alone. Christ often withdrew to be alone when he prayed because he understood the importance of emptying Himself before God, of being able to open up completely, and have quiet time to concentrate, solely on prayer. Prayer can also be done publicly for corporate renewal, provision, and love. Prayer can be done spontaneously or planned out. The list goes on and on and on. No one way is right, no one way is better. They are all important and necessary.
Prayer is powerful, prayer is important. Do not make this complicated. God will guide you in your prayer life, God will transform you in your prayer life. The key is to have courage to do it, to practice it daily, and be open to its power.
Another practice of inward spiritual discipline is meditation. Christian meditation is simply, “...the ability to hear God's voice and obey His word.”5 We just spoke about prayer. And when you pray, speak, pour yourself out at the foot of our Creator. Then be quiet, listen, and meditate. Give God the opportunity to respond. Many of you have heard me say that when I listen sometimes I hear nothing. Other times I hear so much I am left breathless. Christian meditation is not emptying the mind, it is filling it! This is completing the communion cycle between us and God. We talk, pray, and then we listen, meditate. The are all sorts of ways to do this, different methods and practices, but the idea is to give God the opportunity to respond to you, encourage you, love you.
One more practice of inward spiritual discipline is study. We were given a mind and an intellect by God and we are expected to use it. Christ even said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ (John 8:31b-32, NRSV). Study is what will enhance what God reveals to us. Prayer and meditation give us a word, study explains it. Prayer and meditation open the door, study creates the habit. Study is repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection. Take the time to truly understand what God is telling you in Scripture, through the minds of God's disciples. Read, re-read, analyze, and reflect. I strive to read the Bible through once a year. Every time I read it, I find something new. A new idea, a new insight. How much would I lose, if I read it once and quit? Study is a habit, it is repetition.
These disciplines in and of themselves are useless. They simply help take us to the place where God can change us. Go to where God is leading you. Allow prayer, meditation, and study to be your vehicle. These disciplines are not meant to be hard, dull, and boring. They will bring you joy! Joy like you have never experienced before. Have faith, grow your faith. Start from within and you will never be the same again.
 Foster, Richard J. The Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. p1.
 Ibid, p1.
 Ibid, p33.
 Ibid, p34.
 Ibid, p17.