Wait, what are spiritual disciplines again?

In this blog series we’re tracking through the book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer.  Personally I’ve found this book transformative and Comer makes simple and practical our desire as a church family to ‘create space for Jesus in our daily lives through simple habits’.

So far we’ve explored and recognized in ourselves the challenge of hurry sickness, we’ve seen how changes in society make it almost impossible to avoid being caught up in this whirlwind life that damages our souls, and we’ve been introduced to the idea that Jesus may give us a way to live full lives in this modern digital world if we’re willing to adopt his lifestyle as our own.

Next week we’re going to begin looking at the first of four specific and practical spiritual disciplines that help us live this lifestyle.  But before we do, we’re going to take an interlude with Comer to check one very important question:

What actually are spiritual disciplines?

Most of what we know about Jesus comes from the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  What’s interesting about them is that, even though Jesus was an incredible teacher, they are mainly full of stories not collections of his teaching.  Yes, they all record key teachings from Jesus, with slightly different amounts in each gospel, but the bulk of all the gospels is story.

In short, they are biographies.

Now, why do we read biographies?

Usually they’re about heroes of some kind (or villains) and we are not just wanting to know about them but to become like them (or avoid it!).  We read about them in the hopes of better understanding ourselves, to make sense of our stories as we read theirs.

So when we’re reading the story of Steve Jobs, Barack Obama or whoever it is….we are not just looking for what they said or did, but at ‘how he or she lived the details of day-to-day life.  If you’re smart you, you copy those details, and make the individual’s habits your habits; his or her routine, your routine; his or her values, your values in the hope that it will foster a similar kind of result in your life.”

The weird thing is: very few followers of Jesus read the four Gospels that way.

We read them as allegorical stories or cute illustrations.  And so we miss the forest for the trees. The details of Jesus’ life have as much to teach us about life in the kingdom as his teachings or miracles or the more major stories of his death and resurrection.

The rhythms and details of Jesus’ lifestyle have come to be called “spiritual disciplines”.  It’s not always the most helpful language.   We can think of ‘spiritual’ as ‘immaterial’, which it’s not – these are actually habits that shape our mind and body.  John Mark Comer likes to call them “practices of Jesus” (hence the name of his incredibly helpful website www.practicingtheway.org).

Habits are what enable us to live the lifestyle of Jesus.  They are the trellis we spoke about last blog, which means they are a means to an end.  We have to remember that.  Too often we make these practices (prayer, reading the bible, sabbath and so on) into the end themselves – but then “you’ve arrived at legalism. Therein lies death, not life.”

Instead “the end is full life with Jesus.  The end is to spend every waking moment in the conscious enjoyment of Jesus’ company, to spend our entire lives with the most loving, joyful, peaceful person to ever live.”

The point of the trellis isn’t to make the vines stand up in neat rows…it’s to attain a rich, deep glass of wine. To create the best kind of space for the vine to grow healthy and well.

Unlike all other habits, the practices of Jesus aren’t just for developing mind, body, character…. They are how we open our minds and bodies to a power far beyond our own and effect change.”

Think about a standard discipline (not a spiritual one) – what does it do?  A typical definition is something like:

“A discipline is any activity I can do by direct effort that eventually enables me to do that which, currently I cannot do by direct effort.”

E.g. I want to bench-press my body weight but can’t right now.  It’s not that you can never do it, any healthy person can, but I can’t do it yet.  I need to begin doing exercises, shifting diet, doing simple things that I can do right now that will eventually change me so that I become able to bench press my weight.

A discipline is a way to access power.

The difference with spiritual disciplines is that they open us to a power that is beyond us – the Holy Spirit.

Dallas Willard writes this:

“The disciplines are activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken, to bring our personality and total being into effective cooperation with the divine order. They enable us more and more to live in a power that is, strictly speaking, beyond us, deriving from the spiritual realm itself.”

Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p68

Spiritual disciplines aren’t anti-willpower.  In fact, recovering willpower is crucial for transformation.  But it can only get us so far. Yet through easy, ordinary, life-giving practices we gain access to a life-power that is beyond us and enables us to live the life of Jesus.

The strange thing is though, Jesus never directly commanded most of the spiritual disciplines we talk about.  He never commanded us to get up early and read the bible, to commit to community, to practice sabbath…. He definitely commanded us to pray (multiple times), but other than that a lot of the simple habits that enable us to live his lifestyle aren’t found in Jesus quotation marks.

Instead, he simply lived them.  And then he said, “Follow me”.

Remember, that ‘follow me’ means ‘apprentice under me’ or another way ‘copy the details of my life and make them the template of your own’.

Leadership for Jesus is not about coercion and control; it’s about example and invitation.

He lived this life among us, in full view and visible, then turned around and says, “If you’re tired and weary of the way you are living, then come and follow me, copy the details of my life, and I’ll help you to live my way where you’ll find rest, strength, and joy for your souls.”

This is what we’re passionate about as Church at Barking Riverside.  We encourage and enable each other to create space for Jesus in simple habits.  Some we do together like praying the Lord’s Prayer at noon, gathering in hubs and celebrations, reading John’s gospel together each week.  (You can find ways to join in here or find weekly thoughts for the day and prompts on our facebook page).

This is just the beginning.  Over these weeks we’ll allow Comer to introduce us to the habits (invitations?) of Silence and Solitude, Sabbath, Slowing Down, and Simplicity. 

But for now, let me ask you two quick questions:

How do you respond to the idea of spiritual disciplines, the invitation from Jesus to copy his daily rhythms?

Are there already simple habits or ways in which you create space for Jesus and enjoy being with his in your day to day?

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