Posted by: pastortomvabeach | January 25, 2012

Thought for the Week January 29, 2012

We have spent several installments now discussing two important activities that, when practiced regularly, can help me to become more Christ-like. We have discussed the importance of listening to God’s voice in the Bible and of spending time in worship and conversation with Him through prayer.

Traditionally these activities are called “spiritual disciplines”. As I mentioned in one of the earlier segments, I prefer to call them training exercises. The reason is that there is a huge difference between trying to do something and training to do the same thing. We can try really hard to do something we are not capable of and never be able to do it, just by trying. On the other hand if we arrange our lives around practices that develop the skills and expertise needed to do that thing, eventually we will be able to do it.

As we go forward I want to share a few more “spiritual disciplines” or “training exercises” that are valuable to becoming more Christ-like but, first, I want to be sure we understand what a “spiritual discipline” is and what it is not. John Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted does a superb job of defining this for us.

Briefly, it’s important to know that “spiritual disciplines” are not a score card to measure how “spiritual” a person is or is not. One can check off Bible reading, prayer, witnessing, journaling, etc. every day religiously but if that person is not growing in their love for God and for people, they’re missing it. The disciplines are not the goal; Christ-likeness is. Neither is a “spiritual discipline” a way to earn favor with God. We don’t get extra credit for reading completely through the Bible, nor does that prove how committed we are. “Spiritual disciplines” are the means by which we grow toward the abundant life that God graciously offers in Jesus Christ.

On the other side, Ortberg tells us a “spiritual discipline” is “any activity I can do by direct effort that will help me do what I cannot now do by direct effort.” This is why we call it training. We arrange our lives around practices we can do that help us do what we can’t do by will power alone. What makes something a “spiritual” discipline is that the activity helps me “gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled.” There are many such practices, such as prayer, servanthood, meditation on Scripture, etc. that are proper “exercises” for spiritual life. The ones we choose for our lives at any given moment will be those that help us overcome barriers that are keeping us from living the life Jesus modeled.

Dallas Willard suggests two categories of “training exercises” – exercises of engagement and exercises of abstinence. Engaging suggests exercises I intentionally do; like worship, study, giving. Abstinence means exercises that I intentionally refrain from doing; like fasting, solitude, and silence. Willard says the exercises that are most helpful to us are those which are the opposite of a barrier or problem we are facing. For example, if I struggle with doing what I should not do, like boasting, the exercise that would help would be silence or secrecy (not telling people when I do acts of charity). If the problem is not doing what I should, like being joyful, the exercise that would help is celebration (praising God regularly).

I know that I’ve given you a lot to think about today, but I want to make sure that we are not pursuing these spiritual growth topics with the wrong idea in mind. These are not notches to check off in our “spiritual checklist”. We pursue these practices with the ultimate goal of seeing the fruit of the Spirit, the Christ kind of life of loving God and loving people, grow and really show up consistently in our lives so that we can truly be transformed.

We have arranged to help you get an even better understanding of “spiritual training” and find those exercises that will work best for you right now. Beginning on February 5, at 9 a.m., a new Life Group is forming at Christian Chapel to do a study of the book to which I’ve referred in this segment and several others, The Life You’ve Always Wanted. This group will give you a more in-depth view of Ortberg’s teaching and help you to recognize some very simple yet practical exercises that you can add to your training repertoire. There will be plenty of time to discuss the why’s, wherefore’s, and how’s of the exercises and for you to practice.

I encourage anyone who wants to continue to be “transformed into a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ,” to take advantage of this opportunity. That type of transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely. Paul told Timothy to train yourself in godliness (I Timothy 4:7) and advised the Corinthians that everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training (I Cor. 9:25). If Paul understood and put himself into a life of training so he could be Christ-like, why wouldn’t we? Just a thought.

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