If you're just popping in on this November series, you can catch up here.
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Alright! Today we'll take a quick peek into what Richard Foster calls "The Outward Disciplines." In my skimming of the four chapters, however, it became quite clear that each of these outward disciplines are manifestations of inward transformation. So when we're thinking about simplicity, solitude, submission, and service, we're thinking not only about outward behaviors, but also having our hearts changed so that we're doing out of who we are, not who we want people to think we are.
Again let me remind us, the Disciplines are about drawing near to God. None of them are laws, but they are means of grace for us to know God better, walk more fully in His way, and to be transformed. While challenging, because we live daily in the reality of the flesh vs. the Spirit, we should also be awestruck that God reveals Himself to us, offers us ways to get to know Him better, and transforms us to look more like His Son. Amazing!
On with a few points about each of the Outward Disciplines!
Simplicity - main passage Matthew 6:25-33
- It is an inward reality (focus on God and His kingdom, trusting in Him for provision) with outward effects (how we spend and make decisions about our time, money, and stuff). Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others. p 85
- The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first, and then everything necessary will come into its proper order. p.86 Simplicity is single-minded focus on seeking God and His kingdom.
- Simplicity can easily become an idol and we can fall into legalism, wanting to make up rules for ourselves and others, but Foster believes Jesus spoke enough about economics and how to relate to our stuff, that it's worth taking the risk to discuss the point. We must know the pitfalls and keep our eyes on Christ as we move forward in faith.
- The main inward effect of growing in the Discipline of simplicity? Freedom from anxiety. Jesus says, "Do not be anxious about all these things ... your Heavenly Father knows you need them."
- Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude. ... Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment. (p 96)
- Solitude and silence go hand in hand. The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear. (p 98) We cannot see and hear God if we are always surrounded by noise and listing to the loud voices in our minds.
- Growing in this Discipline, Foster suggests, will likely take us through a "dark night of the soul," a time when God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that he may work an inner transformation upon the soul. p 102 It will not be comfortable, but it will be good. God uses these times to change our appetite from temporal to eternal things.
- Some of Foster's ideas for taking steps into solitude: take advantage of quiet moments in the day (we often miss or misuse them), find/develop quiet places, try periods of less (or no) talking, take several times a year to be with God for reorienting and goal setting.
- Every discipline has its corresponding freedom. What is the freedom that corresponds to submission? It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. p 111
- Jesus showed us the way in this with His "cross-life." He had (unlike us) every right to demand praise, honor, obedience, and His own way! Instead He walked the road to the cross. The cross-life is the life of voluntary submission. The cross-life is the life of freely accepted servanthood. p 116
- Self-denial is the drumbeat of the submissive life. We are dependent on Christ to help us die to self, putting aside getting our own way. We are called to think not only of our interests, but those of others: God, neighbor, family, friend, and even foe.
- Foster has some discussion on specific aspects of submission (like relating to government authorities) but you'll have to read those on your own.
- As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service. p 126 Remember Jesus telling His disciples to wash one another's feet?
- The opposite of true service is self-righteous service, which comes through human effort, ... is impressed with the "big deal," ... requires external rewards, ... is highly concerned about results, ... picks and chooses whom to serve, ... is affected by moods and whims, ... is temporary, ... is insensitive, and ... fractures community. (p 128-129)
- True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside, ... finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service, ... rests contented in hiddenness, ... is free of the need to calculate results, ...is indiscriminate in its ministry, ... ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need, ... is a life-style, ... can withhold the service as freely as perform it, and ... builds community. (p 128-129)
- Humility increases as we set ourselves aside and engage in true service.
- Foster goes into some detail about types of service we can do unto others, but for the sake of finally ending this post, I'll leave you to read the book to learn more!
After reading about these, I think putting in the effort to move toward God in these disciplines is like taking up arms and entering the front-line battle against the flesh. These things will help us to die to self in new (and sometimes dramatic!) ways.
Now I must make a confession: I want the results of growing in these disciplines, but I'm not so sure I want to put in the work. Even as I read about these things, I find myself wanting to make plans and start doing things, without stopping to hear God, to seek His kingdom, to be silent, to listen. I also feel encouraged by Foster's words. Too often I make the Christian life about being nice or self-improvement, rather than the two greatest commandments.
I pray God will show us how to put some of these things into practice right now in a way that lets Him give us life and sets us free!
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Don't forget about the give-away!
Saturday is the day YOU could win a wonderful book for reflection during advent and a sweet treat!!