Most sincere believers will affirm that it’s a good idea, but honest thoughts will go something like, “Yeah, you’re right…I need to do more…read my Bible more…pray more…more quiet time…fast more…and so forth. Or, if you’re one who currently consistently practices them, pride may rise up a little and you may be tempted to say, “Amen! That’s right!…You all need to be more disciplined in your walk with the Lord! (like me).
Can I just say it, both of these responses are performance trips.
I saw a quote on one Christian blog that said, “Discipline is doing what you know needs to be done, even though you don’t want to.” That sentiment is instructive. And while the blog was talking about exercise, it’s easy to carry this feeling subconsciously over in our attitude toward spiritual disciplines.
The underlying premise is, while I won’t really enjoy it, I should be doing it.
And if the dictionary defines discipline as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience,” is there any wonder why we may have problems with it!
I would like to offer a different perspective on the whole subject.
First, consider that we are citizens of heaven, seated with Christ in heavenly places, and there are no spiritual disciplines in heaven (Eph.2:6; Phil.3:20; Col.3:1-3).
And there’s a potential problem with the popular view of spiritual disciplines. If engaging in it doesn’t lead us to greater intimacy with God, it becomes an end unto itself, a religious idol.
Another danger here is when we’re really just using it to make our old dead self behave.
But the bottom line is, spiritual discipline is only really needed when love is lacking.
Our faith works through love, not discipline. More discipline will not give us more faith, but encountering more of God’s love will.
Without God’s transforming love, discipline just makes us more hardened in religious pride.
While spiritual discipline can make us live like a dutiful slave it won’t necessarily make us live like a beloved son.
Let me say it this way, would I need to discipline myself to have an intimate relationship with my wife if I were madly in love with her? (Which I am!) And, if I’m head over heels in love, would I look at spending time with her as a discipline or as a delight?
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I only have to “work at” loving her more when love is lacking.
And here’s a question to ponder…why do you think Jesus went off to pray all the time? Was it because He needed to get His “quiet time” in?
And this gets us to the heart of the matter …
God seems to think that in His presence is fullness of JOY and PLEASURES forevermore (Ps.16:11; Jn.15:11). Do we actually believe this? Because I hardly think anyone needs discipline to fully en-joy pleasures, do you?
You see, our problem is not that we’re not disciplined enough, it’s that we’re not enjoying God enough.
It’s not a discipline problem, it’s a perception problem. We look at all these things (Bible study, praying, fasting, etc.) as a duty to perform, a command to obey, instead of looking forward to encountering the joys and pleasures of God.
If you were God and people had to be commanded before they would spend time with you, would you feel loved? Would that be a fulfilling relationship to you? I didn’t think so.
That’s why I think our religious view of spiritual discipline and loving God as a duty or obligation is so pathetically sad.
But we will always do with all of our heart what we enjoy most. We cannot escape this truth, but this truth can also lead us to freedom! (Jn.8:31-32)
You may ask, but doesn’t God discipline us? Yes, He does (Heb.12:4-6).
But He does so as a loving Father, not as a stern taskmaster. It’s not to control our behavior though fear of punishment. That would be disciplining the old “us.” He seems to think He nailed the old “us” to the Cross (Rom.6:6).
In fact, He’s not dealing with our sin anymore. He’s relentlessly about forming Christ in us, revealing what it means to be His son.
The “sin” we’re to be striving against is our unbelief. This is the whole context of Hebrews. Because the real “us” doesn’t sin, even though we might do so in spite our new nature (1 Jn.3:9). We “sin” out of ignorance of who we really are.
But what is our part?
Our part is to respond to God, our part is to abide.
And to abide means to stay put. To remain where you’ve been placed. There is nowhere we are to get to; we’re already there. And staying in a place full of joy, delight, and pleasure is pretty easy to do!
Abiding is more about “being” than “doing.”
This is not a “mystic” thing, it’s what it means to be “normal” Christian rather than an average one.
God created everyone of us to enjoy Him continuously, to live in the rest of His euphoric embrace, as a son who is loved and affirmed by a good father. Except this Father lives inside of you and never ever leaves you.
He continuously empowers you abundantly more than you can possibly imagine, by His Spirit, to become who you already are in Him (Eph.3:19-20; Col.2:10; Titus 2:11-12).
We were created to be caught up in the constant and ever-increasing reverberations of His revealed glory (2 Cor.3:18). That’s abiding.
And we love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength only because He first loved us all of His heart, soul, mind and strength. Imagine what that looks like! We love ourselves because when we see us we see His reflection, and with that same perspective, we love others.
That’s my idea of spiritual