To say the Spiritual Disciplines are a source of passion seems a little self-deprecating. The word “discipline” has mostly negative connotations in modern America, evoking instant rebellion at the thought of being constrained or controlled. And yet, living a life characterized by discipline is precisely what Christ followers are to do.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
But what does a disciplined life look like? The first step is recognizing your need for more of God. To see yourself as you really are, recognizing how far you’ve strayed from the fold of the Good Shepherd, you begin to desire something deeper, something more. And that’s where Spiritual Disciplines enter the scene. These are ancient practices, tested and tried for centuries. They have proven effective for pilgrims wishing to draw near to God and to be characterized by his holiness. In these Disciplines, our weary souls discover the place in which they can meet God. And they won’t want to leave.
Before we begin to understand individual Disciplines and how to practice them, we must also realize that self-discipline requires choice. Each day brings new opportunities to tune your heart to the voice of God. We can make a choice to get out of bed an hour earlier than necessary, to give the first moments of your day to God. We decide whether to maintain our hasty lives on the Sabbath or to rest. It is up to us to discipline our hearts to encounter Almighty.
Each day can be shaped by experiences with the Disciplines — examen, lectio divina, fixed hour prayer, fasting, confession. These practices and many others seem confusing and out of place in our 21st century culture. We struggle sitting still for a few moments and cannot fathom meditating for an hour. Convinced we’ll miss something pivotal in life, we wouldn’t dream of taking time for solitude. Our appetites are nearly non-existent for we never allow ourselves to experience hunger, fearing emptiness.
Surely there are many who long for a deeper connection to God – seminarians, pastors, stay-at-home moms, teenagers. Begin examining your lifestyle, noticing your feverish pace and hasty decisions. Pay attention to the moments when you could have sat in stillness, but allowed fearful excuses to triumph. As we begin to see our lives with objectivity, ask God to spark in you a flame of desire. That small spark is all it takes to begin a journey of spiritual transformation.