[openbook booknumber="ISBN:0310246954" templatenumber="1"] A few years ago, the Lord had to take hold of me and do some big work in my life. I must say that it wasn't my idea of fun, but there were some areas in my life that He needed to deal with (or at least start dealing with!). Until He did, I knew that they will always stand in the way of where He wanted to take me. It's like cleaning out the mess in your room. Until I start picking up the laundry or throwing or giving away the things I don't want, and sorting out the piles of papers, a clean room will always be a hazy dream. It begins with picking up that first piece of paper and then the next and the next and the next, until the work is done. It is a chore, and it takes discipline, but if I want a clean room, it's what I need to do.
It's the same thing with my spiritual life. Although I may want to grow and change and mature into Christlikeness, there are some things I need to deal with in my life. I'm not going to catalog that list for you right now, but trust me, it's a long one. In fact, I'm still working on it. But each day I continue to walk with the Lord, He is doing His work in me. It may not seem like much in a day, but over time, I can begin to see the cumulative effect in my life.
This is the season of my life when I was introduced to the spiritual disciplines...again. When I was younger, I just thought of spiritual disciplines as things that I did so I could check them off my list. It wasn't that I necessarily thought they had any connection to my "real" life. Suffice it to say, when I lived like that, I really didn't see a whole lot of point in reading my Bible when the day got busy. Since it didn't make a whole lot of difference anyways, I must say I wasn't very faithful to keep it up.
However, in my more, ahem, mature years, I am beginning to see that spiritual disciplines are not just about earning favor with God or looking good before others. It's about keeping the communication lines open with the Lord so that I am open and available to Him if He should want to speak to me. One of the first books I read was John Ortberg's book, The Life You've Always Wanted (Zondervan, 1997). My husband got it for me for my birthday one year and like all of his books, it is easy to read yet full of solid material.
In the book, he goes through a selection of the more popular disciplines, such as prayer and reflection on Scripture. But he also includes some that are not so well-known, such as confession, secrecy and "slowing." Each chapter focuses on one of these disciplines, but not just for the disciplines' sake. I like the fact that he reminds us that they are meant to "morph" us into Christlikeness.
One quote that struck me says this,
The great danger that arises when we don't experience authentic transformation is that we will settle for what might be called pseudo-transformation. We know that as Christians we are called to 'come out and be separate,' that our faith and spiritual commitment should make us different somehow. But if we are not marked by greater and greater amounts of love and joy, we will inevitably look for substitute ways of distinguishing ourselves from those who are not Christians. This deep pattern is almost inescapable for religious people: If we do not become changed from the inside-out---if we don't morph---we will be tempted to find external methods to satisfy our need to feel that we're different from those outside the faith. If we cannot be transformed, we will settle for being informed or conformed.
For me, this is where the danger of spiritual disciplines often lies. We can do all the spiritual disciplines in the book but still miss the boat. Instead of being transformed, we can settle for what he calls "pseudo-transformation." We can do all the right things on the outside but not be internally transformed. I appreciate this caveat in the beginning of the book because it reminds me that the goal is not simply to do the disciplines but to be changed by them.
This book is very readable, and he shares many examples from his own journey. But even though it's easy to read, I don't think it's easy to apply. After you've finished a chapter, give it a try in your life! I especially enjoyed Chapter 12, which discussed creating a lifestyle of spiritual disciplines called a "Rule of Life." Instead of looking at the disciplines separately, they are meant to work together to keep us in a seamless fellowship with the Lord.
This is an excellent book and a great way to start deepening your fellowship with God. If you're ready to move to the next level, this is probably one of the more readable primers on disciplines out there.