Of the three relationships we discussed in the last blog post, the spiritual relationship is the most abstract. Because of our decision to break our relationship with God, He no longer walks among us as He did in Genesis 1 and 2. Our choices to sin continue to drive us out of His presence. This means we no longer relate and communicate with God the way we once did. We now must fight against sin to draw back into His presence. One of the ways we do this is through spiritual disciplines.
God chose to dwell with us because He wanted to begin rebuilding our relationship with Him. He came as Jesus in order for us to know Him again. Through Jesus we see what God is like. He shows us what He cares for and what angers Him. He shows us how He accepts and loves. Everything Jesus did shows us more of what God is like. Jesus’ life is an example of how to reconnect with God: how to communicate with God, how to connect with God, and how to listen for God. These activities are generally referred to as spiritual disciplines.
Many people have negative connotations with the term spiritual discipline. I know that for a long time I did. For me the term was associated with hard, boring work and cutting myself off from everything fun. It conjured up images of spiritual gurus who cut themselves off from society and have lost touch with the the Great Commission Jesus left us with.
Some of you might have never heard of the term spiritual disciplines and that is ok! I am excited to have the opportunity to introduce them to you. Some of you might connect with the preconceptions I once had and that is ok! Hopefully I can show you a better picture of the life spiritual disciplines create. Some of you might be practicing spiritual disciplines right now and that is great! I hope I can introduce you to even more spiritual disciplines that you can benefit from.
There are many different ways to group spiritual disciplines, but we will be grouping them by their focus. Corporate disciplines focus on connecting to God with in relationship with the body of believers. Outward disciplines focus on your relationship with God by looking at how you relate to other parts of His creation. Inward disciplines focus directly on your relationship between you and God by isolating your relationship from everything else that is going on in your life.
All of us have been created with unique personalities. Just as we connect with friends differently than others connect with their friends, we all connect with God differently. It took me longer than I would care to admit to understand this. For a while I felt that if I was not good at every Spiritual Discipline then I was a bad Christian. And I was not good at practicing many of the spiritual disciplines so I often felt like a bad Christian. But that was unfair of me. My personality does not match with all of the spiritual disciplines.
But this does not mean you should never partake in spiritual disciplines that you are not prone to. Just because fasting and journalling are extremely difficult for me doesn’t mean that I should never partake in them. There is much to be gained from them, so to ignore them entirely is to lose out on all of their benefits. They may not fall into my daily or weekly routines but I should occasionally work on them throughout the year. It is healthy to incorporate a couple disciplines from each of these three groups.
The first discipline I want to discuss is community. Community might not be the first think you think of if you were making a list of spiritual disciplines, and that might be because it is so normal. Community is something we take part in almost every single day of our lives. Although it may be the most common, I believe it is one of the most important disciplines that we engage it.
The Lord God Said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds and the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man. and he brought her to the man.
By this point in the story, God has created Adam and given him the task of working and maintaining the garden. But Adam does not yet have anyone to help him in this task. He has a relationship with God who is above him, and a relationship with creation which is below him, but no relationship with anything which is on the same level as him. He is socially alone, with no one to understand his exact position in the world. No one to see the would through his eyes and relate.
As far as we know, Adam has no problem with being alone in this sense. But this can be expected because he has known nothing else. He is missing something that he can’t know he is missing because he has no knowledge of community. But God knows what Adam is missing. God shares in equal community through the trinity. And it was that love, which was experienced in community, that originally inspired God to create. Knowing that Adam needed community to experience that part of love too, He declared being alone “not good.” This is a profound remark by God. Up to this point everything that has been created is good. This is the first time we see God refer to something as “not good,” so it should stand out to us.
In order to remedy this thing that was not good, God gave Adam a task: to name every single animal. Overtly this helped with the ordering and maintaining of the garden. Naming the animals, knowing the animals he was to care for, is part of Adam’s purpose in the garden. But there was another reason Adam was assigned this task. God was allowing Adam to find a helper for Adam’s work, the work of maintaining and nourishing the garden. But there was no suitable helper. God allowed Adam to realize that there was no other creature on Earth that was able to properly connect with and help him. So God created Eve from Adam, and gave Adam a suitable helper, one that he could connect to, and relate to, and work alongside for the purpose of God.
Humans were not created to be solitary creatures. We were created for community. We were never intended to live life alone. We have always needed a community to be a part of. And living in a community is how we better understand the love that is contained within the Trinity, it is how we better understand God, who is love.
On top of that, each human being is created in the image of God. This means that everyone we meet, everyone we come into contact with, is a reflection of a part of God. The more people we converse with and get to know, the more reflections we get to see as God. Each person is a different representation of God. As we understand other people, especially those who are very different than us, the more we can see of God. Other people help us understand new things about God while refining qualities that we thought were God but are not. And the more we love others, the more love we are showing to God.
Below are some tasks for you to intentionally engage in community in way that connects you to God.
- List out times where you have understood more about God through getting to know someone new or through talking with someone.
- List specific examples of how you can love people in your life that you have not done yet.
Worship occurs naturally in humanity. In my last blog post, An Epic Struggle, we discussed how there is an order to the world: God then man then creation. Each position above another position is tasked with protecting and nurturing what is under it. Positions that are below the top position should respond in reverence, awe, and worship to that top position, which is God.
But sin has disrupted this order and tempts us to mix up the order of the world. When we place others, ourselves, or things in that top position, we begin to worship those instead of God. This is called idolatry. There will always be something at the top of your list that you worship. It can change yearly or daily or hourly, but there is never a time where you are not worshiping something. There is never a time where you are not living your life for something.
Ultimately we were created to worship God; we were created to live our lives for God. It is sometimes hard to realize that worshiping something besides God is bad. In and of themselves, these things (money, success, other people, advancement, victory) are good. And it is ok to strive for these things, as long as you remember their proper place within creation. As soon as we begin to place things in improper places of our lives, they become bad and damaging and draining and harmful. Fulfillment only comes when everything resides within the proper order, where God is first and foremost.
There is a great line in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline which says, “Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father,” (p. 158). We worship God as a response to the love that created us and nourishes us. It is improper to place anything besides God at the top of the list because it was only God’s love that created everything, and only God’s love can provide complete, unselfish nourishment. Worship is the response of entering into a relationship with the One who created us and who fully knows us.
While worship does include church services, it is far more than that. What we worship is what we wake up for in the morning, what motivates us to get through the day. Although worship is all about what drives an individual, it is a corporate discipline because our lives are lived in connection to others.
Below are some thoughts about how worship affects our relationship with God and with others.
- Everyone that we come into contact with is affected by what we worship. If we worship success and money and promotions, then our family and co-workers can suffer from our choices. If we worship our family, then our friends can suffer from our choices. Our lives impact the lives of those around us.
- Those around us can point out if we are worshiping things besides God. Accountability is a major part of community. Those close to us help make sure that our lives and our worship are centered on God.
- Adele Calhoun says this in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “The heart of worship is to seek to know and love God in our own unique way. Each one of us fulfills some part of the divine image. Each one of us loves and glorifies God in a particular way that no one else can,” (p. 45). When we worship together, we paint a full picture of worship to God.
This spiritual discipline is often one that gets taken for granted or viewed only in a secular sense without any religious connotations. But celebrating has real ways of connecting us to God.
The discipline of celebration brings joy into our lives, joy that is meant to be experienced through community. Have you noticed that you generally laugh more in groups than by yourself? Or that when something exciting happens to you, you have this natural desire to share that good news with others? Joy does not want to be bound to a solitary life. Joy wants to be spread among others! Joy is a connecting force, a force that brings us together. And celebration is one important way of living out joy.
In the same book I mentioned earlier, Richard Foster says that “Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety [cheerfulness] and a sense of thanksgiving,” (p. 191). Spiritual disciplines are supposed to breathe life into our relationship with God, not cause us to drag our feet around everywhere we go. And celebration helps stimulate the joy that should be flowing from the disciplines. There are two aspects of this that I want to highlight.
The first aspect is a fairly natural reaction: celebrating in good times. It is proper for us to tell our friends and family all the wonderful things that are happening in our lives. We should celebrate with our friends, family, and God.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows.
Everything good that happens is because of God. He created everything good and everything good flows from Him. In her book mentioned above, Adele Calhoun says that to celebrate is “to take joyful, passionate pleasure in God,” (p. 26). Our celebration of good things is a kind of worship to God. It is us thanking him for what He has provided.
The second aspect is a harder reaction: celebrating in bad times. When we are in hard times, it is natural for us to lament instead of celebrate. In these times, it is easy for us to lose sight of the good things that have happened to us. But it is in these times that we need celebration the most.
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
This strange time to be praying and singing hymns, a strange time to be worshiping and celebrating God. They had just been beaten and tossed into a dark and gloomy jail cell, yet their reaction is one of more happy times. Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, gives us a little insight into the idea behind celebrating God in the midst of hardships.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
Celebration in our good times allow us to thank God for what He has done. Celebration in our hard times allow us to find hope in God. It is a way of remembering that joy of God is deeper and more powerful than sorrows. It refocuses us on the the big picture, on things outside of the present moment we find ourselves in. Celebrations orient ourselves towards worship, praise, and thanksgiving in the presence of God.
Below are some questions and tasks to help you identify when and how you naturally celebrate God.
- Do you have a natural tendency to a) remember the past, b) live in the present, or c) anticipate the future? (you may be a mixture of these)
- If you have a tendency to remember the past, it may be easier for you celebrate in the hard times than the good times. When you are in hard times, use your personality to remember all the times in the past that God has blessed you and know that every storm eventually passes. When you are in good times, stop and acknowledge the good things in your live that are happening right now!
- If you have a tendency to live in the present (like me), it may easier for you to celebrate in the good times than the bad times. When good things are happening, use your personality to embrace them in the moment! You should also start a journal or note page where you list all the good things that have happened to you. This way, when you are in the bad times, you do not dwell in them, instead you can read over and remember all that God has blessed you with.
- If you have a tendency to anticipate the future (also a little bit me), the good times might be really good and the bad times might be really bad. With this personality it is easy to think that whatever is happening now will happen forever. When you are in good times it feels like you will be on top of the world forever. But when you are in bad times, it seems that life will never be better. Remind yourself that life goes through seasons, and that although life changes, God will remain constant through all things.
- When you see others celebrating God in ways different than you, how do you react? Are you accepting of how they connect with God or do you believe they must celebrate God in the same ways you do?
- Write out a list of all the ways that you celebrate God. Now, as you continue to live in community, watch for ways others celebrate God differently than you do. Ask if you can join them in their celebration. (you might just like it too!)
- Plan your next celebration of someone (Mother’s/Father’s day, a birthday, an anniversary) in a way which reminds them how cherished they are by you and by God.
Corporate spiritual disciplines are wonderful ways to step into the Body of Christ. As we connect with others around us we begin to see and understand God in new ways. The next two blog posts will discuss more personal ways of connecting with God. Keep an eye open for Part 2 where we will be discussing outward disciplines!