This past weekend in the sermon we looked at emulating Simeon’s resting in the Lord, Mary and Joseph’s followingthe commands of the Lord, and Anna’s focusing on Jesus. Maybe you’re wondering how to do this. Or maybe, because it’s a New Year, you are looking at establishing some new rhythms or habits in your life as you seek to focus on and follow Jesus. To help us with that, let’s look at some words from the Apostle Paul:
For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:8-10)
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Paul plays around with the image of physical training and laboring, and striving for godliness.In a letter to the Philippian church, Paul actually commands believers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). When it comes to godliness and formation into the likeness of Jesus – there is effort involved!In just the same way that people need a plan in place to ensure they exercise enough during the week, we need to ensure that we are equally disciplined (if not more!) in carving out times and routines for our own spiritual growth.
In his book Habits of Grace, David Mathis outlines his spiritual exercise routine: Begin with the Bible, move to meditation, polish with prayer.The difference for meditation and mere Bible reading has to do with the amount of time spent in and chewing over (as it were) a particular phrase or verse. Bible reading is like eating food – you chew and then swallow. You can digest quite a bit in one sitting. Meditation is like placing a lozenge in your mouth – you allow the small piece to work over a longer period of time. He then takes what he read in the Bible, and the cares of the day, and lets his reading and his life inform how he then speaks to God. It’s a good plan (and a good book!).
If we expect to get in shape physically we need to make and then execute that plan, the same is true of our growth in Christlikeness and our spiritual formation. We can’t just have a plan and expect to grow in grace – we need to execute on our plan. It’s one thing to have a plan to begin with the Bible, move to mediation, polish with prayer – and put it in your calendar. It’s quite another to actually do the thing.
Needing to make and execute a plan for growing in grace undergirds the language of spiritual disciplines. It’s easy to misperceive the idea of spiritual disciplines as just a fancier word for legalism; as though spiritual disciplines are something that people do in order to be loved by God. Butspiritual disciplines aren’t done in order to earn the love of God, but are done so that we can grow in our love for God. Spiritual disciplines are pursued and prioritized not because it is our solemn duty to God, but because we are most satisfied and delighted in God. Lots of authors provide different lists and ideas for what constitutesspiritual disciplines. I think Mathis’ three pillars for his habits of grace are a very strong foundation, and I’ve also appreciated the four spiritual disciplines that John Mark Comer lists in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. So, to combine those two lists (from those two good books), here is a starting point to work from regarding some spiritual disciplines:
Bible reading – Wide
Bible mediation – Deep
Silence and Solitude
If you want to know more about what each author means by each discipline, I’d encourage you to read their books! They are great. The truth is, entire books are written about spiritual disciplines, and so one blog post won’t be able to tie a bow around this topic. But for now, let me leave you with these questions to consider (and maybe even comment below about!):
Do you have a plan for strengthening your relationship with Jesus? What does your “spiritual exercise” routine look like? Would you be interested in talking with someone about how to personalize a “spiritual exercise” routine that works for you? We have people at our church who would love to talk with you about that – comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will follow up with you.