Many years back, when I was going through the Candidates process (applying to become an ordained minister) with the Salvation Army, I was encouraged to read a number of books to help with my spiritual growth.
Some of them were ok. Some were rubbish. One, however, stands out as truly life changing, one that I have gone back to several times. Richard Foster’s ‘Celebration of Discipline‘. Simple. Beautiful. Revolutionary.
Now, discipline is one of those emotive words. We hear it all over the place – in positive and negative terms. At the point that I was introduced to the concept of the spiritual disciplines my view was pretty negative. You see, I wanted a prayer life and relationship with God that was about passion and desire…not ruled by rigid discipline…reading and praying to a set routine. Why read the bible and pray if you didn’t want to? Surely that was completely against the point…
The reality of faith (at least my experience of it!) is that there are a heck of a lot of times when we don’t ‘feel like it’. All sorts of reasons for this…personal tragedy…indifference…busy-ness…laziness…the list goes on and on. I’ve mentioned here before about the ‘dark nights of the soul’ that come about from time to time…where, for whatever reason, we experience emptiness. I remember some key spiritual moments in life where despite all the evidence to the contrary I simply had to believe that God is good. I had to make myself worship him. I know how arrogant that may sound…but there was no ‘good’ reason to do so…but I knew I had to.
It’s the times like these that the hours spent reading and praying come to count. The barest ‘whisper of a memory’ that keeps us coming back to the pages of a series of stories written millennia ago.
Foster describes to us the simple beauty of orientating ourselves around God, rather than living a life where we try to fit him into the spaces in our busy timetable. Through simple practices known as the ‘disciplines’ (Internal disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study. External disciplines: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service. Corporate disciplines, those that are completed within the body of the church are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration) we enter the rhythm of life that God has created for his creation. We see life from a different perspective. We live life ‘big’ rather than small and ‘me’ focused. When we struggle, when we lose the will to keep on the journey, the discipline kicks in…and we keep walking…or stumbling…or crawling…towards the person we can be.
Now here me right here – the reason I have to keep coming back to the book is because I’ve definitely not got this sorted! Far from it. But it inspires me in so many ways to keep trying. To keep pushing me beyond my weaknesses into the image God is creating me.
If you haven’t read it…take some time…even if you don’t believe the same stuff as me. You don’t know what might happen. I didn’t…