Our current sermon series is a look at the New Testament's frequent use of Olympic metaphors for the life of following Jesus. Its been fun to have a video interview each week with a Lake Forest member who trains current Olympic medal winners. The athletic training imagery has been fun to communicate colorfully, including 'butt prints on the couch,' using 'coach Paul's whistle' from our weekly training locker, and finishing last week's sermon while eating a bag of Cheetos.
Our weekly passage from God's Word is I Corinthians 9:23-27, the core of which is "...Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training..."
Yesterday, I introduced my friends to spiritual growth through training instead of trying, which is exactly what Paul calls the Corinthians and all of us to practice. Christians for 2,000 years have understood and articulated this path to the grace of spiritual growth, to become more like Jesus, as a life practicing what are known as 'spiritual disciplines.'
I promised to put some of the definitions and categories from the sermon here in my blog. I pray you will select one 'Discipline of Abstinence' and one 'Discipline of Engagement' that the Holy Spirit nudges is for you this fall, and build it into your daily/weekly routine as a form of 'running in such as way as to get the prize' 'of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ' (Philippians 3:14). So here you go, I hope it's helpful (Thanks to Aron Gibson for resourcing me with some of this material):
There is an immense difference between TRAINING to do something and TRYING to do something. Thus, spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely. – John Ortberg
Following Jesus simply means learning from him how to arrange my life around activities that enable me to grow and live in the fruit of the Spirit. The traditional term for such activities is ‘spiritual disciplines.’
Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy this same counsel: “train yourself in godliness” I Timothy 4:7. The true indicator of godliness, or spiritual well-being, is growth in the ability to love God and love other people well, as clearly taught by Jesus.
So what makes something a discipline?
Discipline: Any activity I can do by direct effort that will help me do later what I cannot now do by direct effort. I cannot run a marathon today by direct effort or willpower. But if I train for three months with specific athletic disciplines, I will then be able to run a marathon by direct effort. Get it?
But what makes something a spiritual discipline?
Spiritual discipline: Any activity that can help me gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it. – John Ortberg
How many spiritual disciplines are there? As many as we can think of. Certain practices are foundational for all Christians, but you can also turn almost any activity in to a ‘training exercise’ for spiritual life. (sermon example: when a parent prays nightly, repeatedly, with a small child, the child's spirit is being trained or bent toward a God-centered life of thankfulness, concern for others, and petition for oneself - that's a powerful, common spiritual discipline).
Myths of spiritual disciplines:
1) They are only for the super spiritual followers of Jesus.
- for everyday followers of Jesus (like praying with a child every night)
2) Spiritual disciplines are all drudgery and hardship.
- pathway to peace and joy (did you see the joy on Kathleen Baker's face after winning silver and gold this week, after years of athletic disciplines in training?)
3) It’s all about your willpower; it’s not at all about your willpower.
- find the center of the road on this; its both/and; Philippians “work out your salvation…what God has worked in you”
4) All the spiritual disciplines are the same - - so just do your favorite one.
-no decent athlete decides 'I'm only going to train with the bench press, my pecs will be amazing,' we each need a collection or regiment of disciplines
-each discipline has something that it combats or builds in our character and spirit; some of them are essential every year, others are for a season to protect or grow a specific part of our spirit:
+ Prayer & meditation frees us from self-sufficiency
+ Fasting frees us from consumerism.
+ Study frees us from emotional captivity.
+ Solitude frees us from being controlled by others.
+ Silence frees us from having to know it all.
+ Submission frees us from pride.
+ Service frees us from self-interest.
+ Confession frees us from isolation.
+ Worship frees us from self-promotion.
+ Giving frees us from worshiping and worrying about money.
+ Simplicity frees us from anxiety.
+ Celebration frees us from boredom/pessimism.
Two categories of spiritual disciplines are important to understand.
Disciplines of Abstinence to help us remove destructive and unhelpful things from our lives through acts that force us to stop, wait, remove, or eliminate.
Solitude: The practice of spending time without any others or any distractions.
Silence: No noise or conversation. Just you and God.
Fasting: Abstain from food, media, entertainment, or anything else that occupies your time.
Frugality: Use your money for purposes outside your own needs for a time.
Chastity: Specific life practices, under mentorship by others, to honor God with my body through sexual purity, as befits my circumstance of being single, married, or single-again.
Secrecy: Do not allow anyone to know of the deeds you do or the money you give in order to avoid doing them for the wrong motivations. Only God needs to know.
Sacrifice: Stretch your sense of what you can do without for the sake of those who have less.
Disciplines of Engagement to build the right kinds of attitudes and habits into our daily lives.
Study: Memorize Scripture and expand your universe of biblical study helps.
Worship: Engage in corporate worship and include worship in your own prayer time.
Celebration: Practice being grateful and thankful both in your own relationship with Christ and with other believers. Express encouragement and thankfulness to others.
Service: Give your time to the church and/or to others. Ponder tithing your time.
Prayer: Take deliberate steps to pray regularly and with purpose. Praying through the Psalms is a good way to increase your “prayer vocabulary.”
Fellowship: Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Confession: Practice confessing your sins to trusted people who will pray with you and be spiritual allies.
Submission: Submit to the proper people in the proper ways—fight against the sin of pride.
Ask the Holy Spirit, quietly, what new, routinized practice of Abstinence and/or Engagement would make you more 'race ready' for the upcoming Fall season of life? Talk it over with a 'coach' (mentor) or 'teammate' (peer) this week. (Three books I recommend on this subject, in this order: "The Life You've Always Wanted" by Ortberg; "The Spirit of the Disciplines by Willard; "The Celebration of Discipline" by Foster).
Hebrews 12:1b-2a "(L)et us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith..."