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How the Term ‘Spiritual Disciplines’ Misses the Point

How the Term ‘Spiritual Disciplines’ Misses the Point

I often meet with a variety of Christians and the story is almost always the same. These God-fearing people strongly profess to love the Lord and a desire to live a life of faith.

They may even put up protest when their spiritual lives are our topic of conversation, fervently arguing that all the benefits of Christ are theirs. Instead they live in fear, desperation and often sin.

The question is, why are so many of us stuck in our development toward Christ-likeness? Why are we more known for our fear and hate than our peace and love?

Our struggle starts like this: All Christian disciplines are beautiful and beneficial in the life of a believer. For example, I have a personal burden and desire to read the Bible every day and to perpetuate a heart of worship, praise and thanksgiving both continually and, at times, intentionally when no one is watching.

I also practice constant contact with the Spirit throughout my day with times of focused engagement and intercession. But even in my own very disciplined life I can easily practice these spiritual exercises and not actively engage with God on a personal and intimate level.

For far too long, we have practiced our faith assuming that these valuable disciplines are the meeting place or the “point of communion” arranged for us to meet with Jesus every time we use them.

A point of communion is the practice, discipline or place in which the Spirit has created special access to the spiritual nourishment and manna needed for each season. It is a place of fulfillment and refreshing we need to remain sustained in Christ. In it, the Spirit provides the grace we need to overcome and remain united to Christ.

I believe reading the Bible every day is extremely valuable. But no one is able to eat upon His flesh and experience their daily bread while in the Word every time he or she opens it up. Yes, you can always learn more about His character, nature and ways when studying Scripture, but that doesn’t mean the words on the page will be the place you will meet Him face to face today.

If you have been a believer for long you have had these experiences: First, a day or season of reading the Bible where the verses jumped off the page and nourished your soul. (I absolutely love these times when the Bible comes to life.) Secondly, you’ve been told, and shamed into believing that if you are struggling with sin or stuck, not growing in the Lord, “What you need do is read the Bible more.”

The mistake we all make is trying to recreate any experience with the Lord without checking in to find out where supper will be served. We experienced communion or nourishment during worship or in Bible study one time and assumed we were benefitting from the practice rather than the presence. What could happen if we were to exchange our value for form with a love for encounter?

We have to remember that ours is a romance story, not a formula.

The spiritual disciplines are about tuning in to God’s heart and refining our focus so that our hearts match His already established will and nature. They were not designed to be used as a power play.

How often have we read the Bible because we thought laying our eyes on the pages would please God and make us more likely to earn His favor and provision? Or, do we read the Bible because we believe somehow this behavior or discipline makes us more worthy of His attention?

Of course, reading the Bible is a great idea, but it’s our heart and our intent in the practice that is vital. Read the Bible. Do it every day. But don’t do it as if you’re paying spiritual dues and building credibility in the eyes of God.

Similarly, how many of us have attempted to use fasting to impress God? I am convinced He is not impressed. How can He be any more impressed with us? He is already consumed with love and affection for every one of His children. Fasting is very important—exponentially so in any first-world culture. The issue is the heart and whether we are trying to force God’s hand out of our own determination.

Fasting, is mostly, if not entirely, for our benefit. Fasting is separating ourselves from different forms of distraction and replacing them with acute focus on our spirit man. Fasting helps us tune into God, not God into us. For example, from a place of fasting we might discover a clearer means of intercession.

Often, we pray like we fast, trying to manipulate God into action. If this formula—where religious abstinence yields spiritual progress—worked without fail, we would all be fasting a lot more often. Our perspective will dictate our interpretation of the events. We often misinterpret any positive result found in our practices as a byproduct of the “discipline” performed instead of the intimacy achieved through acute focus. God always longs for that level of intimacy and connectedness.

We learn in the Word that He desires and is moved by intimacy rather than our sacrifice. I have found that the Father will move on our behalf even when we have no idea why. His bountiful love is not held captive by our understanding. Yet our limited understanding can hold us back and keep us captive. Our perspectives keep us stuck, effectively dining alone at an empty table.

Lastly, let’s consider the practice of worship and thanksgiving. Whether through the vehicle of music or simply through the intentional act of giving God the attention, affection and acclaim He deserves, regular worship is appropriate and beneficial.

Yet, there are times when the Spirit invites us specifically into worship as the place to meet and encounter Jesus. In those times, worship has a new depth or a new excitement. In those times, we eat upon and nourish ourselves on His goodness through worship and thanksgiving. The Spirit-led invitation, made personally, often helps to increase our appreciation for His presence.

If we are going to move from sprinters to marathon runners, we must learn how to maintain nourishment and stamina at the table of Jesus. The purpose of our training is to follow the Spirit’s lead and direction to where He has made a meeting place for us and Jesus. Sometimes it’s worship, sometimes it’s studying the Bible and sometimes it’s as unspiritual as taking a moment to enjoy a great cup of coffee.

Following the Spirit in the disciplines is about learning to discern where your peace and romance with Christ is most full and nourishing in every season.

Learning to discern our Point of Communion is the life source of endurance. If you are not careful you will miss out on this fuel because you forgot to show up emotionally and relationally or because you were too busy doing the “right” Christian practices.

Christian disciplines are beneficial to practice regularly or every day, but understand two things: disciplines do not buy you value or credibility with God and, secondly, spiritual disciplines, no matter how often or intensely practiced, will not cause you to live a life overflowing with love. Only intimacy with God will. The Pharisees made this obvious. (see John 7:14-19, 8:1-11)

Practicing spiritual disciplines without intentional openness and intimacy with God is as successful at making a connection as taking your wife to dinner and being on a business call or watching to a football game the entire time. You might have made the disciplined effort of taking her out, but I promise you, she is not feeling the love. Grace and mercy and her bounty will not overflow.

And likewise, a wife can submit her body as a matter of sacrifice and honor to her husband, but if she doesn’t show up in genuine affection and intimacy beyond the physical, then whether he knows it or not, he will not be satisfied. He needs her fully present in spirit, soul, and body. He needs her invested. Authentic intimacy and connection cannot be fake. It is the same with our spouses and our God.

Seasons in the Lord can come and go as often as daily and can last for years. Knowing and providing what we need to remain in Christ is the work of the Great Counselor, the Holy Spirit. Learn to discern your Point of Communion, and learn to be sustained in the ever-abundant, ever-present goodness of God.

Start by first asking God for help. This is my most common encouragement to people. Then ask for an increased discernment and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and begin to practice. If you believe you can hear a specific leading, then try it out and see what happens. If you are not sure, then put one or two of the disciplines into practice and see if you are encouraged, filled or sustained.

The only way to grow spiritually is through trial and error. This is why grace has been afforded to you. You get to practice. In the art of seeking, genuinely and honestly, you cannot go wrong. And today’s a great day to start.

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