LHC is currently going through a coordinated curriculum dealing with the spiritual disciplines of the church, and it is prompting me to think a little more closely about what they are, how we engage with them and what they do (and don’t do).
There are a lot of good definitions and descriptions out there about what they are, and I have compiled my own kind of simple description from several of them. The spiritual disciplines are deliberate activities designed to put us in God’s way.
They are deliberate. We do not grow and mature as Christians on accident or from circumstance to circumstance. If we allow our soul’s formation to simply happen to us, we will be not be unformed spiritually, but malformed. Instead of the malformation available to us through our day-to-day lives, we decide to engage in activities designed to bring us closer to God and the kinds of things he wants to do with our lives.
They are designed. By this I mean there is a tried-and-true historical method we can be a part of. I do not believe it is the case that every activity is a spiritual discipline, though to the properly disciplined every activity becomes an act of worship and discipleship. So, prayer, for instance, is designed and guided by the Scriptures and tradition instead of the whimsy of personal experience. And in this way our experiences grow deeper and deeper as we step into God’s ocean instead of wading in our kiddy pool of subjective reality.
They put us in God’s way. I need to come up with a better analogy, but this one came to me years ago and it still communicates my point. The spiritual disciplines are not the things that “make us better people,” they are the things that get us out of the way and allow God to do his job of transformation. For example, if I want to be hit by a car (I told you it was a bad analogy), I will never succeed by sitting at my keyboard and thinking about it. But, if I get up and walk the few blocks to the interstate and put myself in the way of oncoming traffic, I will likely succeed. It’s the walking that makes the difference.
The spiritual disciplines are like taking a walk to put ourselves in God’s way. Sitting here thinking about life with God is nearly useless. But if I begin to take steps in the right direction there is no telling what God can do. The spiritual disciplines are those steps. They are not magic. They are not instant miracle cures to vice. They are the ways in which God gains access to me – to every part of me – so he can overcome my brokenness and make me into the image and likeness of his Son.