Sunday, July 19, 2009

Discipline

In some ways, I don't have a lot of self-discipline. My life has never been regimented or orderly. I like to do things a little differently each time, and on top of that I have a strong tendency toward daydreaming and forgetfulness.

So, sometimes the phrase spiritual discpline rankles me.

When I was younger, I was always feeling guilty for not praying enough, not studying enough, not being good enough period. I was looking to myself and my works or approval from some outside source for value and a feeling of "right-ness" with God. If I could just do "it" -- whatever the discipline or self-help method of the day was -- as prescribed, my life would be better.

It never worked, and always left me empty, exhausted from striving and wondering if it was even possible to please God or get that feeling of "right-ness".

What is discpline? Is it punishment? The root word discpile rules out that interpretation. To be a disciple is to be an apprentice, to be a trainee, to be guided. No, discipline and punishment are not equivalent.

So what is discpline or should I better ask what are THE discplineS? Are they habits? Are they required acts of service and devotion that prove how Christian we are? Are they chores or drudgery?

The best I can understand it and put it into words, the disciplines are the way we live out practice and deepen our faith. They are dynamic, give and take, unique to every person yet common to man ways of expressing our love to God and receiving His love for us. This abundant life is strong, but yet it is fragile and vulnerable to overexamination, striving and pride. In a way, life with God has an uncertainty principle that makes it difficult to measure or talk about directly.

I've noticed that, for me at least, the moment I begin to try to nail the discplines down and define them, there is a risk of introducing pride. Pride will choke the life blood and turn the disciplines into burdens, dead works and drudgery. In a word, legalism. Perhaps the danger is in thinking the description of one person's experience is a prescription rather than an inspiration for your own journey? Or to presume to reduce to rules on paper what was always meant to be a dance?

In Richard Foster's The Celebration of the Disciplines, he outlines and discusses four inward disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, study), four outward disciplines (simplicity, solitude, submission and service) and four corporate disciplines (confession, worship, guidance and celebration). I've read his chapters on inward disciplines and the first outward discipline, and I'd like to share my thoughts on them here along with the later chapters as I read them. This is a work that needs to be savored, digested and discussed.

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