Doing something with the mind and body to foster spiritual growth is a timely topic for Christians. This time between Ash Wednesday and Easter is traditionally a penitential season. It’s a time Christians look inward and re-think (i.e. repent) some of our choices. The purpose of introspection and re-thinking is to be able to identify course corrections, however minor or major, to align our life trajectories to our own life goals and to God’s will for each of us, individually.
Course corrections and life changes can be difficult to define and even more difficult to put into effect. Once we have decided on a change in course, it takes resolve, spiritual fortitude, grace, and often a power greater than ourselves to put it into action. More than faith or intellectual assent is needed.
5For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
The first few words of this passage tell us a lot. “You must make every effort to support your faith.” Note Peter does not say, “Sit back and wait for the miracle.” God works miracles through the efforts we make.
From a pragmatic perspective, some things are impossible to pull off without practice. As much as I want to bat .300, simply willing it to be so without any practice or training is a recipe for failure. Practice makes performance possible.
Spiritual disciplines condition us for the strength needed to break destructive patterns or to step up to positive life change. Disciplines don’t guarantee life change any more than time in a batting cage guarantees I’ll bat .300, but they make possible what would otherwise be impossible. Spiritual disciplines do something else very powerful in addition to spiritual conditioning. The act of doing exposes us to God’s grace. It is through our doing that God acts, taking what is weak and making it enough.
Dallas Williard’s Spirit of the Disciplines says ancient spiritual disciplines are effective because they engage the body, which Willard describes as the focal point for life. Any of the disciplines can be practiced in a manner accessible to a beginner. Those beginning weight training may use small weights. Those starting endurance training might run short distances. So it is with spiritual training.
During Lent, this blog will explore a variety of spiritual disciplines. Like Willard, I encourage an experimental attitude. What is a lovely practice to recall mindfulness for some can become a mindless practice devoid of meaning for others. Or worse, it can become distorted for vanity. My real motive in dieting during Lent may be to become more attractive rather than to find sustenance in God, for example.
Try a variety of practices and notice what works for you. Remember, though, that practice is not an end in itself. The purpose of practice is gaining the strength we need to break old patterns that get in the way of our relationship with God. A strong spiritual condition frees us to choose God’s will in the face of competing cultural currents. Moreover, spiritual disciplines are means of grace, a medium through which God blesses us and holds us fast.
Join the conversation. What spiritual disciplines are you thinking about trying?
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