Scripture provides insight into additional disciplines17 in alland each is essential for strong spiritual development. This book introduces these disciplines and provides biblical proofs as well as present-day illustrations to show how God uses them to increase our capacity for enjoying Him.
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By Jan Winebrenner
Time WarnerCopyright © 2003 Jan Winebrenner
All right reserved.
When I was a little girl, my dearest dream was to own a horse. When my family moved to the Navajo Indian reservation just as I was starting high school, my dad tried to soften the trauma of uprooting me from my friends with this almost promise: "Maybe I'll buy you a horse." He bought me a motorcycle-a tiny Honda Trail 90. It drank cheap gas and could live by the back door; it didn't need shoes, vet calls, or a trailer for hauling.
I had many great adventures on that Honda, riding over sheep trails and through ravines and canyons that hid secret pools and mysterious rock formations. But my heart was set on owning a horse. Always I pretended I was on horseback, and I never gave up my dream.
The day my husband, Ken, bought me a horse has to be one of my all-time-best days.
I had been taking riding lessons on a chestnut mare named Tess at a little stable in South Carolina. The trainer had mentioned that Tess was for sale, but I never allowed myself to think about buying her. How could we afford her, along with stable costs (we lived in town), farrier and vet bills, not to mention saddles, bits, bridles, and all the rest of the tack I borrowed each time I rode? But every day I fell more in love with this beautiful mare. I learned the basics of caring for her as well as how to walk, trot, and canter, and I pretended she was mine.
Then one afternoon, Ken came home from work and said, "Come take a drive with me."
When we arrived at the barn I asked, "What's up?"
"We're buying a horse today," he said, grabbing my hand and pulling me toward Tess's stall.
I couldn't breathe. And then I couldn't see through a blur of tears. I stumbled into Tess's stall, threw my arms around her neck, and sobbed. Ken stood in the doorway grinning, waiting for me to finally erupt with the laughter of pure joy.
Later that night, I fell asleep with fantasies of the equestrian life galloping through my dreams. I imagined myself riding through fields, jumping Tess over colorful fences, cantering through forests to the accompaniment of baying hounds and squeaking leather.
I never imagined what it would take to make those dreams come true.
Life is often like that, isn't it? We harbor our dreams, sometimes for years, savoring them, but seldom do we really understand what it will take to make them a reality.
When Ken gave me the gift of a horse, I had no idea what I would have to do to become the kind of rider I dreamed of being. I didn't know how much I would have to learn to become proficient enough to ride my horse over a three-foot obstacle, land safely, turn and canter toward the next fence, and complete an entire course. All of this, of course, without taking a fence out of order, pulling a rail, or worse, breaking my neck.
As weeks of riding passed and lessons piled upon lessons, reality hit me in the chest like a flailing hoof. This riding thing, the whole equestrian thing, the way I wanted to do it, was a full-time endeavor. It was not something I was going to be able just to "pick up."
I noticed that the good riders at the stable where I rode took lessons all the time. They signed up for clinics with world-class trainers. They arrived at the barn early every morning, worked their horses, then studied videos and watched other classes to learn more. They attended horse shows where they competed and others where they just observed. They read books about riding; they studied their horse's "way of going"-I didn't know a horse had a "way of going."
I never became the rider I wanted to be. Over time, the demands of family and the limits of budget loomed as more indomitable obstacles than the colorful fences and log jumps that stood in the hunt field. But as I walked away, I took with me some of the most valuable lessons I would ever learn.
The equestrian life I dabbled in for a few years became for me a metaphor of my Christian life.
The Big Five
For many years, I thought that an active, Bible-informed Christian life consisted of the practice of certain daily habits. Every discipleship class I ever attended emphasized the same ones-always five; always the same five: study, prayer, worship, fellowship, and service.
I didn't confuse the discipleship experience with the salvation experience-I knew the Bible well enough to comprehend the difference. I understood that Jesus? death paid the debt of my sin that I could never pay. I knew it was his overwhelming act of grace and mercy that secured my place in heaven and made me a child of God through faith. But discipleship often confused me.
My faith was fragile-the slightest disturbance in my world could send me tumbling into a field of doubts and uncertainties about God's goodness. I didn't have the kind of intimacy with God that my discipleship classes promised. I yearned to know God, to experience his power and presence more fully, yet this kind of relationship eluded me. God seemed distant, strange. I knew his Word, his promises, but for all my knowledge, it seemed I didn't know God.
I practiced some spiritual disciplines-the five most commonly recognized ones. No one would argue that these are basic building blocks for a disciple's life. But I knew I was missing something. Could it be that God wanted to deposit in me vast treasures of grace, if I could only learn to widen my heart? But how? The question haunted me.
Dry, stale, thirsty for God, I began praying that he would show me how to open my heart. I prayed that he would teach me how to move into deeper levels of intimacy with him. I prayed that I would learn how to know God, really know him.
I was tired of living a limp, weak spiritual life. I was tired of saying I loved God, when the truth was that I hardly knew him apart from the facts I read about him. I certainly didn't trust him as he deserves to be trusted. I was living proof of Brennan Manning's words: "You will trust God only as much as you love him. And you will love him not because you have studied him; you will love him because you have touched him-in response to his touch."
I yearned for the touch of God. I had no idea how it would happen, but I prayed that his fingers would press on my heart and mark me with the certainty of his presence. In almost immediate response to that prayer, I stumbled into a study of the classical spiritual disciplines.
Over the next few years, I discovered there is much more to the life of discipleship than I had ever imagined. I learned that walking with God involves more than merely doing the four or five things a denomination may teach in a six-week discipleship class.
I learned that the spiritual disciplines are God's means of training us, finite and flawed creatures, to love the invisible, almighty, infinite Creator; they are the means by which we learn to enjoy him; they are the means God uses to nurture our confidence in his goodness and love.
Through the spiritual disciplines God not only touched me, he gripped me hard in a fist that is stronger than a lion's paw. He pulled me close against his heart and taught me to discern the rhythms of grace.
A Great and Precious Irony
As I studied and experimented with the spiritual disciplines, I was struck by this great and precious irony: it is through discipline that grace is best experienced. The Puritan preacher Robert Leighton understood this three centuries ago when he wrote, "The grace of God in the heart of man is a tender plant in a strange unkindly soil."
Legalism and confusion about the true nature of God had made my heart's soil unkind toward grace. The truth of his unrelenting compassion toward me found little welcome in my heart. I was unable to live in the reality of that most essential truth that "being the beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence." But as I began to exercise the spiritual disciplines, the soil of my heart became welcoming, receptive to the sweetness of the gifts of grace.
Through doing the spiritual disciplines I began to understand the truth about being-being God's beloved child, being the accepted and cherished bride of Christ.
An Offer of Rest
Even as I write this, I am aware of how little I "do," and how much God does for me and has already done for me in sending Christ to redeem me; and all he will continue to do for me throughout my lifetime and into the aeons of eternity.
On the other side of the discussion of "doing," I am aware that we live in an era when most Christians are so busy with activities and programs and family and work obligations that the mere suggestion of "doing more" can trigger guilt, anger, or even a panic attack. So let me put your mind at ease with this word: the spiritual disciplines are not a rigid set of rules imposing stringent behavior practices on us. Nor do they require more tasks and activities added to already overburdened lives. The great beauty offered by the spiritual disciplines is this: they teach us how to rely on the loving sufficiency of God; they show us how to recognize his presence and revel in his sovereignty; they lead us into ever-deepening levels of intimacy with the God who calls us his "beloved"; they teach us to allow God to work for us, in every situation. In short, they offer us rest.
Relating to an Invisible God
I admit I was surprised to discover that there was so much more to the equestrian sport than learning to mount, walk, trot, canter, and dismount. It was daunting at first to realize all that I had to learn. But it didn't take me long to see that the new skills I was acquiring (slowly, sometimes awkwardly) increased my delight in riding. I became more comfortable, more competent in the saddle. I had less trouble staying on course, and my body moved more gracefully, more in sync with my horse. I had more tools for guiding Tess and better aids for negotiating challenging situations, both in and out of the jump ring. Every skill I learned enhanced my love of the sport and increased my pleasure.
In much the same way, I've discovered that learning and practicing the spiritual disciplines has enhanced my spiritual life and shown me how to enjoy God and trust him more fully. They have become training tools that heighten my awareness of God in my daily, moment-to-moment existence; they train me to participate more fully, more consciously, in the kingdom purposes of God; they teach me how to relate to an invisible God.
I have seen my faith grow stronger, my soul enlarged (slowly and often in only small increments) to receive more of his grace and sweetness.
I have come to understand this reality: if all we are doing as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ, is practicing a few habits in order to look like a Christian (whatever that looks like), or to satisfy a denominational standard for behavior, we are doing little more than dabbling with the idea of discipleship. And instead of reveling in the abundant life Jesus promised us, instead of experiencing increasing intimacy with him and an ever-growing confidence in his goodness, we can expect discouragement, disillusionment, and frequent failure.
The Ancient Paths
For most of us, our Christian traditions encouraged the practice of some of the spiritual disciplines, although which disciplines varied from denomination to denomination. Growing up in a very conservative Christian community, I never heard a sermon on the disciplines of silence or simplicity; however, many a pastor preached study and service. I heard sermons on prayer and worship, but never on humility or celebration or solitude.
My friend Marie grew up in Australia in a religious tradition that emphasized church attendance-just show up. Confession was mandatory, but she never learned about private worship or meaningful Bible study. She never heard a sermon on submission or sacrifice.
As we shared our spiritual heritages with each other, we discovered that both of our traditions had ignored, or forgotten, most of the habits that Jesus taught and lived in front of his followers. Neither of us had ever been taught silence as a discipline, or submission, or sacrifice. No one had ever included the disciplines of fasting or meditation in a discipleship class. Yet down through the centuries, faithful, godly individuals have practiced these disciplines and urged others to follow them as well.
Jeremiah the prophet called: "Ask for the ancient paths, / ask where the good way is, and walk in it, / and you will find rest for your souls."
These disciplines, these ancient paths, when embraced in faith with reliance on the Holy Spirit, are the very means that offer us hope for change and the expectation of spiritual growth. They are our promise of rest and peace.
Two dangers lurk in any discussion of the spiritual disciplines. The first, and the most perilous: thinking that exercising the spiritual disciplines will earn us favor with God and make us worthy of a home in heaven. We must never forget that the disciplines are training tools only, aids that enable us to grab hold of God's promises, to live in the reality of his love and presence, to understand what it means, experientially, to be "in Christ." They do not impart life.
Life comes only through the Son, the Begotten of the Father, who came to show us what grace and truth look like. When we forget this, "the gospel becomes just a pattering of pious platitudes spoken by a Jewish carpenter in the distant past."
John Wesley testified that until he understood grace, the methodical approach through the effort of discipline didn't make sense. But "his heart was strangely warmed" once he found salvation through faith in Christ. He learned that salvation preceded growth toward discipleship.
The second danger is that, having understood salvation, we would misunderstand the purpose of spiritual disciplines. We would try to make them an end in themselves, rather than a means of encountering God and experiencing his presence. We would treat them like rules we force on ourselves and on others, with no relationship to the pursuit of intimacy with God.
Thomas Merton wrote: "An activity that is based on the frenzies and impulsions of human ambition is a delusion and an obstacle to grace. It gets in the way of God's will, and it creates more problems than it solves." The problems we create for ourselves are pride and legalism, defeat and despair.
Those problems multiply when we attempt to force others to get busy about the business of being good, without understanding that the only business that matters is that we be God's. We become guilty of coercion and manipulation; we become unkind usurpers of the Holy Spirit's work, which is always gentle, courteous, and respectful.
This, then, is our strong reminder: that the bedrock of our faith is Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins, raised on the third day, ever living to intercede for us and bring us into glory.
Excerpted from Intimate Faith by Jan Winebrenner Copyright © 2003 by Jan Winebrenner. Excerpted by permission.
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