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STUCK! Chapter Six: Where Do I Start?

14 Aug

Let’s imagine that you’ve read this far in this book and come to realize, “Yes, I’m a bit stuck in my Christian life! Boy, am I glad I bought this book!” (or words to that effect). “But where do I start?”, you might ask. That’s where the so-called “spiritual disciplines” become very important.

Much has been written about the spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s work Celebration of Discipline is a classic in the field. We are really talking about developing holy habits which grow us in godliness. Some put the disciplines into categories like the following:

The Inward Disciplines:
MEDITATION
FASTING
STUDY
SIMPLICITY
SOLITUDE
SERVICE

The Corporate Disciplines:
CONFESSION
WORSHIP
GUIDANCE
CELEBRATION

Let’s think about each of these for a few moments. Concerning the “inward disciplines,” MEDITATION involves memorizing a passage of Scripture and thinking about it as much as you can. For example, one might memorize Nehemiah 8:10 where he says to the people of Israel, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Now, you might memorize only the “do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” although some might focus on the first part of this verse! The point is that during the day (or during the hard night hours) you can say to yourself, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” You might consider reading up on the context of that challenge by Nehemiah to get some background, but the point is to meditate, ruminate, marinate in that verse!

A few words about FASTING. I don’t believe Scripture commands us to fast (that is to go without food for a particular period of time in order to focus upon the Lord). On the other hand, one might quote the Lord Jesus who said in Matthew 9, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (v. 15). The bridegroom has been taken from us. So voluntary fasting makes sense. Missing a meal to concentrate on God’s Word or to prostrate oneself before the Lord in prayer for a serious situation is quite counter-cultural in our frenetic, food-obsessed world, but spiritually healthy. Practicing this discipline is to be private. Jesus criticized the Jewish religious leaders who didn’t keep their fasting private. Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Mt. 6:16).

How about fasting from technology? We’ve become more and more dependent on our smart watches, iPhones, and video streaming services. Unplugging from those can do us a world of good in bringing us some quietness, solitude, and focus.

The spiritual discipline of STUDY is very close to my heart as a teacher. I was a lousy student in high school. And even worse when I went through my first year in Bible college. Then I met my wife to be — and all laziness and joy was gone. She looked at me and said, “You have a theology exam on Friday, right?” I knew it would be a mistake to lie, so I said, “Yes, Dear.” Then she said, “Listen, Buster.” (My name has never been ‘Buster.’ So I realized she was serious). “If you do not ace your theology exam on Friday, I will not date you on Saturday.” I aced the exam on Friday, got on the Dean’s list thereafter, and completed a Master’s and a Doctorate over the next few years. All because of religious blackmail.

Believers in Jesus — whether they recognize it or not — are life-long, even eternity-long students! We will forever be studying the character of our God. So let’s get started now. The unstuck believer is pursuing biblical subjects and learning what God wants them to learn.

Life can get quite complicating, can’t it? The spiritual discipline of SIMPLICITY involves the elements of creating margins in our lives, learning to say no when appropriate, and focusing our attention on the Lord instead of the things of this world. Creating some space for ourselves can be a challenge, but a healthy life needs alone time as well as interaction time with others. A great teacher of preachers once said, “Men, learning to say ‘no’ will do you more good than learning Latin!” Active, involved believers are often the first ones to be asked to get involved in a ministry or take on some additional church duties, etc. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is say, “No. I’m quite involved right now.”

Focusing on the Lord is the third element of SIMPLICITY. We speak with Him in prayer and He speaks to us through His Word. We realize that we are responsible for our thought lives and we ask for help in applying the challenge of Philippians 4 where the Apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (v. 8).

The simple practice of SOLITUDE is a piece of cake for an introvert like me. Introverts like to be alone. But biblical solitude is much more than aloneness. It is a concerted time with the Lord, an intentional distancing from others and the distractions of this world to simply spend time with the God who wants to spend time with us.

The great theologian Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody!” SERVICE is the practice of thinking of others before ourselves, asking how we might encourage another in their Christian life. Ephesians 2 says we’ve been “appointed to good works.” And those works are to be done for the sake of others.

The so-called corporate disciplines have to do with the Body of Christ, the church. We are to engage in CONFESSION as James says: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16, KJV)

Of course we are to give ourselves to WORSHIP and that should regularly happen with God’s people. GUIDANCE is often given by the Holy Spirit through God’s people. And we should all engage in CELEBRATION as we together praise the Lord and seek to serve Him.

HOMEWORK:
1. Read a book like Foster’s Celebration of Discipline or Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney and J.I. Packer. Discuss your book with another believer.

2. Find an accountability partner with whom you can work on a couple of the inward disciplines. Check up on each other’s progress and consistently pray for one another.

3. Discuss one of the corporate disciplines with some of the leaders in your local church. Ask how you can help them improve those disciplines among the people of God.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2022 in STUCK!

 

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