If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
There's also a give-away in progress, get your name in the drawing here.
On Saturday, I listed the chapter titles of Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline for you. Today through Wednesday, we'll take a quick look at each of the three categories into which Foster places the disciplines: inward, outward, and corporate. I'll be skimming through the chapters to pull out main points for you, but if you want to benefit more from the book, you'll have to get your hands on a copy to give it a thorough read.
The Inward Disciplines are certainly what come to my mind right away when I think about Christian living. Foster lists four things: meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. Let me remind us all at this point of what he says in chapter one and what Scripture teaches (and I hope what has been driven home throughout this month), Joy is the keynote of all the Disciplines. The purpose of the Disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear. When the inner spirit is liberated from all that weighs it down, it can hardly be described as dull drudgery. Singing, dancing, even shouting characterize the Disciplines of the spiritual life. p 2
The disciplines require work, but it is the work of drawing near to God who has done so much for us, that we are filled with joy. All good things require that we give up some things to pursue a greater thing. By making time and space in our lives for meditation, prayer, fasting, and study, we move toward not a greater thing, but the Greatest One. Guess what. It is a process. We learn - as the disciples did, as all of God's children have - how to practice these disciplines over our life-times. I appreciate that Foster says this several times in the first few chapters!
A second important note: God uses the disciplines to transform us. Learning to meditate, pray, fast, and study are simply means, not the end. When we consider the Spiritual Disciplines our hearts and minds must always be turned toward our God, not getting the discipline right! (As a type-A, recovering people pleaser, I know this to be a real temptation.)
With all of that being said, here are a few points on each of the inward disciplines:
- Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey His word. It is that simple. (p 17)
- It is intentionally filling our mind up with the things of God, so that it becomes a lifestyle to walk with the Lord, detaching from the world around us and all of its noise, to have a richer attachment to God. (p 20-21, paraphrased)
- We learn to meditate by meditating, choosing a verse or passage on which to focus for a period of time, letting the truth sink into the depths of our brain and heart to transform the way we think and live.
- Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. Foster also says it catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life. (p 33) In prayer we communicate with the God of the universe; relating with Him changes us.
- Real prayer is something we learn. (p 36) The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Prayer does not come naturally to us: submitting to the Father, letting go of control of all situations, asking for wildly impossible-with-man-but-possible-with-God things. But we can learn how to pray!
- We must pray if we confess faith in God. And prayer has many facets: praise, thanksgiving, supplication, confession, intercession. We should come to God in prayer about all aspects of our life. (Foster talks mostly about praying for other people in his chapter on prayer.)
- This discipline has fallen by the wayside in recent history, but can be found practiced regularly throughout Scripture and Christian history. It is abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. (p 48) Could be for a few days or a few weeks, but it's abstaining with purposes and usual is between an individual and God, but in Jewish tradition there is one annual day of communal fasting, the Day of Atonement.
- There is no Biblical command to fast, but Jesus addresses having the correct motivation in fasting in Matthew 6, indicating it has a place in the Christian life.
- Fasting must forever center on God. It must be God-initiated and God-ordained. (p 54)
- Foster spends the last handful of pages of this chapter explaining how to go about fasting.
- Study is a specific kind of experience in which through careful attention to reality the mind is enabled to move in a certain direction. (p 63) Meditation is devotional; study is analytical. (p 64)
- There are four steps in study: repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection. We put ourselves under the subject matter and let it mold our minds. For the Christian, the most important book to study is the Bible, not to master the content and lord it over people, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
- Regarding other books we read for our spiritual edification, Foster says, The key to the Discipline of study is not reading many books, but experiencing what we read. (p 72)
- We can study books and have discussions, but Foster highlights that we can also study reality through nonverbal "books," like nature, events, and our very self. There's a lot to learn and Christians should be thoughtful people, excited to learn more about God, His creation, and His people.
Phew! That's a lot, isn't it? I think the end of this series is going to be like drinking from a fire hose! Do you have a favorite inward discipline? I definitely gravitate to study, and the more I do it, the more I want to. But I can do so at the expense of meditating on the Word, talking with God in prayer, and fasting, well, I never do that! I imagine as we learn and mature in each of these disciplines, we will have that "the more I do it, the more I want it" experience. God is so good to us!
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Tomorrow we move on to the outward disciplines, which, in Foster's book, all begin with S: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service. Till then!