The Importance of Spiritual Disciplines
Now that we have finished Lent and celebrated our risen Lord, one might ask “now what?” Do we go back to our normal, routine lives? Whatever we learned about ourselves during this last season, how can we continue to grow? How can we grow and be rooted in Christ?
One way we grow and become rooted in Christ is by spiritual disciplines. We all need to spend some time with Jesus. Jesus desires a relationship with us and wants to hear from us. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that in difficult times but also in times that we are celebrating what Christ has done for us.
We can look at different writers who have given us an insight as to how we can experience renewal through spiritual disciplines. Writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Don Whitney, and others have shown believers the importance of, to use Whitney’s phrase, “disciplining us for the pursuit of godliness.” Walking with Christ in the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship, and service helps believers in all seasons, including times of certainty. We have experienced plenty of uncertainly in our lives recently. As we see the world so broken and un-united, how can we lean on God more in times like these? We were hit with a pandemic and nobody saw it coming but we can grow in these settings that remind us that we need to lean into God in all circumstances.
Followers of Christ are frequently called disciples in the New Testament. The terms discipline and discipleship come from the same root word. However, a person can be disciplined and not be a disciple of Jesus. But can one be a disciple of Jesus and be undisciplined?
The chaos and difficulties of the world offers the Christian community both an opportunity and an inventory. It provides places where we can serve the Lord and others, and it will test the depth of our discipleship. Will we surrender to fear, or will we trust the Lord and serve others?
I suggest three primary disciplines to help us live godly lives in this particularly tense time. I want to categorize these three in terms of inputs, outputs, and necessities. We will be talking about these disciplines in this month’s sermon series.
First, we need to input truth through Scripture. In a world of information overload and too many choices (for example, 168 kinds of cereal at the local supermarket), among a sea of fake news and clickbait, how do we discern truth and avoid overreacting to the information we want and need?
We lash ourselves to the Bible. We need to return again and again to the Word of God to reorient our worldview. We do need to be aware of the best wisdom on the coronavirus and be wise in our personal response and as local churches. But we start with Scripture and we look to it for hope and wisdom. Like a car badly out of alignment, if we are careless with the information we consume, we will certainly end up in a ditch, swayed by worry.
Bible reading, memorization, meditation, and study keep our eyes on the path the Lord has set before us and helps us to pull against the currents to stay focused on him. In a world that does not always regard believers in honorable ways and in a time of uncertain days, plunging in biblical content reminds us of our identity. We are not as likely to place our security in the markets, the White House, the courts, or our circumstances when we are daily reminded our security is in a God who is both sovereign and who can be trusted.
Second, we output our concerns through prayer. Paul had reason to be concerned as he sat incarcerated while writing the Epistle to the Philippians. Yet, in Philippians 4:6-7, he reminded his readers: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Do not be anxious. Instead, pray. And pray with thanksgiving.
Studies show that people who begin their day writing at least three things for which they are grateful show a remarkable decline in anxiety. That is for anyone. How much more is this true for believers who begin their day in prayers of gratitude to God? In our current context, we can cry out to God with our needs, knowing God cares. And we can be grateful, even while the immediate future is unclear. Scripture tells us many times where prayer was given before engagement with the world happened–Nehemiah before speaking to the king (Neh. 1:4-11); Paul asked for prayer for a future door for the gospel (Col. 4:3-4); and Jesus, prior to the cross, prayed to his Father (Luke 22:41-44).
Third, fasting shows the necessity of God being in our midst. Our consumer culture has made fasting the least practiced of disciplines. We live in a time where we struggle to distinguish between what we truly need and what we want. Discipline, someone said, is choosing what you want most over what you want now. Fasting brings that reality to the forefront as we willfully and prayerfully abstain from the very food that gives us life to be reminded that our ultimate need is for the Lord. Fasting is designed to reorient our hearts to God and to reveal our dependency upon him and the complete insufficiency of this world to meet our needs.”
We will continue to learn more about other spiritual disciplines this month and how we can apply them daily in our lives. I hope and pray through these disciplines that we will learn how to apply them together and see how it can deepen our relationship in Christ. These practices can remind us certainty remains in all circumstances and our God is here, he is not silent, and he is at work. May we find our lives becoming better in dark times, and we may make a better impact on our world than we know.
Scriptures for May 2021
05-02-2021 – The Practice of Slowing, Psalm 46:10
05-09-2021 – The Practice of Simplicity & Generosity, Matthew 19:16-30
05-16-2021 – The Practice of Confession, James 5: 13-20
05-23-2021 – The Practice of Worship, Matthew 4: 8-10
5-30-2021 – The Practice of Celebration, John 15: 1-11
In Christ’s Love,
Printable Version of Newsletter Article – Douglass UMC Newsletter – May 2021
Printable May 2021 Calendar – May 2021 Calendar