Friday, August 24, 2012

Custom-tailoring the disciplines


It seems a bit risky to blog about the spiritual disciplines, as though I’m saying, “This is what I do; read and learn.” I don’t mean that; I don’t even dare suggest it. For me the spiritual disciplines are both a joy and a struggle, and struggle often has the upper hand. But I believe the disciplines are vital for a healthy relationship with God, so I’m committed to the struggle (accepting the joy whenever it surprises me). Writing helps to solidify the gains and clarify the growth points.
The list of possible spiritual disciplines grows every time I read a new book on the subject. That alone discourages. But somewhere along the way I learned the importance of custom-tailoring the disciplines, finding the specific practices that best help me walk with Jesus. In some way or other these match my personality or my situation in life. Some writers refer to a “rule of life,” a term that has monastic roots. Since I squirm under the word “rule,” and since practicing the disciplines can so easily become legalistic, I don’t use that term, but the meaning may approximate what I do.
I’ve recognized five basic disciplines that probably will a part of my life until I die. These are the spiritual exercises I intentionally practice every day/week, in some form or other: engagement with Scripture, prayer, writing, memorization and gratitude. I will write on each of these separately over the next several weeks.
Behind the whole concept of the disciplines, I see the amazing New Testament message that God calls us into partnership, whether for the fulfillment of God’s mission in the world or for our own personal transformation.  I see the exercise of the disciplines as doing my part in this partnership with God for my formation and growth. I do my part and that puts me in the path of grace, God’s part.  Of course grace seems to come whether or not I do my part (which is why we call it grace), but somehow my faithfulness opens me to whatever God wants to do.  It helps me recognize and receive the grace. Transformation and grace are what God does.
It’s not a magic formula. It’s a mystery. I just want to get closer to it. Closer to Jesus.
I need the Spirit’s help to be faithful. And I need the Spirit’s help to keep legalism from creeping in. I need the help of my friends (one of the main ways the Spirit helps me), spiritual partners who keep me accountable. 
In my practice of the disciplines, I have good weeks and I have crummy weeks. I’m learning to go easy on myself (which doesn’t sound much like “discipline,” but if I can’t forgive myself, who will?  Oh, yes. God will. Ok. But it’s still a good thing for me to do, too.)
It looks like I need to discipline myself now and bring this to a close. To be continued. I’d love to hear about others’ custom-tailored spiritual disciplines.

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