Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Spiritual Disciplines

Alan Hanson, football pundit on Match of the Day and former Liverpool defender and Scottish international was once asked what made him such a good footballer—good enough to play at such a high level. His answer? Kicking a ball against a wall over and over again with either foot. Monotonous, boring, but ultimately fruitful, making him able to control the ball and be proficient at kicking with both feet.

Just as there are no short cuts to becoming a good footballer, so there are no short cuts to becoming a good Christian. Both require commitment and discipline. That is why the first Christians were called ‘disciples’ because they were committed to both their Lord, Jesus, and to the disciplines of the Christian life which included, among others, prayer, fasting, giving alms, and regular worship. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians brings this home when he writes: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it for a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25). He is not talking about earning salvation but rather working it out “in fear and trembling”. (Phil 2:12) The disciplines of the Christian life, then, help us to work it out, so that we are not passive receptors, but active co-workers with God.

In Dallas Willard's introduction to his book "The Spirit of the Disciplines" he writes:

"To perform appropriately in the moment when you're "on the spot" you must be preparing when you're "off the spot." We understand this principle when we think of great athletes or musicians, but rarely see it's application in our own efforts to be a "good Christian." The Spirit of the Disciplines presents a way of living that enables ordinary men and women to join with God and realize their highest aspirations of well-being and -doing. The key to this self-transformation resides in the practice of the spiritual disciplines. Readers will learn why the disciplines work and how their practice affirms human life to the fullest."

I suspect that our struggles in the Christian life are sometimes as much to do with our lack of discipline as about the difficulties of being a Christian in a secular and anti-pathetic society. If our faith fails is it because we don't feed our faith through Bible reading? If we worry or feel overwhelmed by circumstances, is it because we don't spend enough time in prayer or solitide? If we struggle with our weight or with besetting sins of covertousness or anger, is it because we don't fast? God has given us the spiritual disciplines to help us enjoy the "fulness of life" Jesus speaks about in John 10:10. how much we want is depends on us.

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