Discipline is not a bad word
When we talk about discipline most of us think of parenting and the principal’s office. Discipline is what happens when we need to be corrected and our behavior adjusted. However discipline is also used in a positive sense when we talk about sports, music and artistic skills like carpentry or art. Discipline is what we call the practice, the lessons and the rehearsals. It is the inner drive to critically examine your craft, and the exterior effort of being taught and led that we call discipline. Just as we need discipline to excel in art and sports, we need discipline in our spiritual lives as well. These next few weeks we will be highlighting various spiritual disciplines during our worship services as an effort to grow deeper in our faith as a church.
All of the things that we call spiritual disciplines are normal activities in the Christian Life and many times in life in general. They become spiritual disciplines because of the effort of concentration on specific actions in a disciplined way for spiritual benefit. While spontaneity in our faith is valuable and flexibility to what the Spirit draws us to is crucial, we are called to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18) and that takes a concerted effort.
Our first topic of the month will be prayer. Both spontaneous and prepared, private and public, prayer is a huge topic. Being disciplined in prayer is a great gift and a skill to be developed. There are many ways to grow in prayer. Learning to pray publicly, gathering with others to pray, and keeping a prayer journal are all ways that can enhance our prayer life. There are a multitude of different ways to pray and many ways to grow in our conversations with God.
Love can be a discipline as well, although we most commonly think of it as an emotion. It might sound like disciplined love is an oxymoron. Ultimately, love is a virtue (not just an emotion) and being disciplined in acts of love does not callus us. Intentionally acting in love causes our hearts to grow and increases our ability to feel and to respond emotionally to others around us. A key part to being disciplined in love is that we can do most things in a loving manner and therefore love can become an innate quality of our lives rather then just a discipline. Disciplined love stretches us and may find us loving people we couldn’t imagine and in ways that we wouldn’t dare.
Living in gratitude is like planting seeds and watering them well. Rarely are seeds like those barren. What a richness we can experience if we are but thankful for the gifts of God and those around us. Even in difficult circumstances there is always something to be thankful for, and the discipline of looking for it shapes our hearts and opens our eyes to the activity of God in our world. It is those difficult circumstances that call for discipline surrounding gratitude. It is too easy to extenuate the negative and descend into despair.
Acts of mercy and kindness are fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. These can be done by individuals or groups of people. When groups of people get together to accomplish something in Christ’s name we call it mission. Joining a group to work at a food bank, trash pick up at a local park with friends, and raising funds for hunger issues all are part of God’s mission in the world. However God’s Mission is not confined to our own neighborhood: it is a global initiative. Supporting and praying for churches and ministries worldwide is a discipline that expands our notion of God’s work in the world. It can also challenge us about who God is as we see people that we perceive as aliens become friends and even brothers and sisters in Christ.
Being intentional about spiritual practices will produce personal growth. Concerted efforts to improve spiritual practice will also sew bonds of faith between believers. All in all, spiritual disciplines allow us to know more about who God is and what God would have us do. We look forward to seeing what God will do with us as we learn together this month.