Spiritual Disciplines.  I’m curious what you feel when we put the idea of spiritual disciplines before you?

Spiritual and Discipline, two of my favorite words!

When I think of the word spiritual, I think about why we were created as spiritual beings, we were created for connection. We were not created as only physical beings for function, we are not intended to be robots, but God created us because he wants to commune with us.  He wants to connect!  Of course, we are also intended to connect with each other.

The word discipline can seem a bit daunting for some of us. Many persons just don’t like “disciplines” at all, they just prefer to live without rails!  Others love the idea of disciplines but fear the failure and shame they may encounter if they don’t follow through or measure up to their strategic disciplined plan. I like to exchange the word discipline for FUNDAMENTALS!  It feels less threatening and more helpful for me.  Just getting back to the fundamentals, back to the basics helps me feel more capable and willing to give it a try.

Attending to OUR OWN spiritual world humanizes us and helps us feel connected or begin to understand why we may not feel connected to God and others.  “Professional Christians”, as we and many of you are sometimes called, have a unique vulnerability to think and philosophize about connecting with God.  We often teach and train in the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We must remember thinking, philosophizing, and teaching about God is not the same as experiencing and engaging in communion with God.

What might it look like for you to go back to the basics of connecting with God?  What are your Christian fundamentals?  Let me guess, a few things that probably just ran through your mind…

  • Go to church
  • Read your Bible
  • Pray more
  • Stop sinning

All worthy things, of course! I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trying to do all these things mentioned above for like 25 years. The idea of spiritual disciplines can carry with it this lofty, big, hairy deal stigma.  When we see them that way, not only does it create a barrier to actually engaging them regularly, but when we do show up to them, we can tend to be disappointed, disoriented, or just dutiful, lacking heart.   It has been helpful for me to begin seeing “spiritual disciplines” as very accessible.  They are not tasks that must be completed and checked off.  We do not need to work ourselves up, have the perfect quiet space, and plan and time set aside.  Rather, spiritual disciplines that have made the most impact for me are just regular connecting points with God and myself.

I can’t help but wonder what the impact would be if the church engaged new Christians (and old Christians) with more of a relational lens.  We serve a relational God, were created as relational souls, and are rescued by a relational Gospel!  What if our focus in “making disciples” and training in fundamentals of the faith was about becoming adept at receiving and experiencing the love of God.  The longer I go along this faith journey, the more I have come to realize that reading the Bible becomes boring and meaningless if I am unable to trust the God who wrote it.  Serving becomes compulsive and hollow when my own toxic shame and unworthiness messages have not been soothed and healed by the Good Shepherd.  Mission becomes exhausting, and I run out of gas for it if I cannot believe that I belong and am delighted in as God’s child.  Forcing myself to do when my soul is exhausted simply won’t keep working for the long haul, and aren’t we seeing that in weary souls all around.

The fundamentals of connecting with God, self, and others do not require big flashy events or a lot of time and planning.  The fundamentals require small, consistent movements that are training our reflexes and orienting our senses toward God.  Think Karate Kid, “wax on, wax off.”

A few of the very basic fundamentals that help me

  • Church bells that go off on my phone every single day at 5 o’clock. When these bells ring, I just open my hands and say, “here I am”.  This little daily ritual reminds me that God is with me and I am with God and we are right here, in this place, together.
  • I practice slow mornings with coffee to gather myself. If I jump out of bed and spring into action right away, it will likely turn out to be a bad day for me.  I need to gather myself, consider where I am today, where my loved ones are today, what’s on the agenda today, what my limits and capacities are today because I am not a superhero or a rescuer.  I am just a human.  I need.  I am dependent. Coffee time helps me acknowledge my creatureliness and walk in humility appropriately.
  • Taking a posture of paying attention and listening. Lately, I’ve been reading through the Psalm 120s-130s with the help of Eugene Petersons, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. This has been wonderful spiritual food for me.  Sometimes I take a break from taking in new information, reading books, even reading the Bible, and just pay attention to what thoughts about God, questions of God, Old Testament stories, New Testament vision and instruction come up in me.  Whether I’m reading and taking in or just holding what I’ve already been given, I often say to God out loud, “I am paying attention, open, and even hoping to learn from you today”.

As you consider your practice of spiritual disciplines, what has helped you the most?  What helps you feel connected, safe, and loved by God so that you might pour his love out to others?

Have you ever struggled with shame and guilt related to following through on practicing the fundamentals of the faith? Are there any practices you have learned or been taught that you notice leave you feeling exhausted and disconnected?

How would putting on a relational lens change how you engage spiritual disciplines

–  Sally Roth