Training vs. Trying – part two | The key into Spiritual Disciplines

Before you read this post, make sure you head back and read part one first here.

Practising the Presence

So what does it look like to train in the kingdom of God. It looks like developing practises, literally practising. Not because we are taking lightly but precisely because we are taking it as important. But again, just like an athlete in practise we learn from our failures and don’t take them overly seriously. We know if we pay attention to them and continue to practise that we will be able to ‘perform’ when the day comes. Again, not because somehow our inherent worth is in question in God’s eyes, but God saves us FOR some thing not just FROM something.

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Spiritual disciplines are about opening up space to become aware of God’s activity in our lives so that we will grow in our ability to receive and participate in God’s love and express it to others.

A most helpful and practical way in to practising spiritual disciplines is to consider one at a time. The tempation can be to create a dizzying list of disciplines and treat them like a check list, but practise of disciplines is not the goal, just the vehicle or means for us to be made to look more like Jesus.

Just pick one

So, how do you pick one? Well, I first heard this idea from John Ortberg, we think about the ways and habits in our lives that are hindering our particpation in the Kingdom of God (they are normally referred to as sins).

Those who have been wise in the ways of the inner life with God had traditionally separated these into two broad categories; Sins of Commission, and sins of Omission. Basically put, Things that we DO, and Things that we leave undone.

We are very used to thinking of things we DO that we think God is unhappy about but not so used to thinking about what are leaving undone. But when we think of our lives only in terms of NOT DOING, we create a Kingdom where the goal is simply to NOT DO. But normally the things we ought not to do are misshapen versions of things we ought to do. Re-ordering our desires and habits through the practises of disciplines is how we re-shape those misshapen desires.

So a sin of commission or a ‘doing sin’ would be something like acting out in an outburst of anger. Where a sin of omission or ‘not-doing sin’ would be something like withholding love or encouragement that would building others up.

Working the doing and not-doing muscles

We can apply another sport metaphor here, like weight training; Wherever we struggle with a sin of doing or a sin of not-doing, we can train the opposite muscle; for example –

Anger – Is a ‘DOING’ sin and an issue of self-control. What might help someone NOT DO? Practising a NOT-DOING discipline such as ‘Fasting’.

Gossip – Is a ‘DOING’ sin and an issue of tongue control and conviction. Practising a NOT-DOING discipline such as Silence might train the NOT-DOING muscle.

Withholding affirmation – Is a ‘NOT DOING’ sin and an issue of lacking thankfulness for the contribution and gift of God in others. Practise a DOING discipline such as Encouragement might train the ‘DOING’ muscle.

Pessimism – Is a ‘NOT DOING’ sin and an issue of believing the worst. Practising a DOING discipline like regular acts of celebration will help cultivate true joy.

The discipline of secret service

A while ago I found myself increasingly concerned with how others saw me. Or more clearly what others saw me do. I realised that at least half the time as I was doing something considered religious I was wondering what others thought of me as I did it. I had become far too interested in the opinion of others that it was threatening me hearing my worth from the Words of God. In that time I started a discipline that I called ‘secret service’. Every day I would challenge myself to do something secret with the Lord. Often secrecy is considered a negative thing, but I had decided that I would do something that would bless God, bless others and grow the kingdom and it would be our secret. I would commit to God, not to tell anyone else about it. Sometimes it was small, sometimes bigger, a couple of times I was found out and didn’t deny it. But it began to open up a space of intimacy and humility with God that I had never known before I began.

There are still things to this day that no other person than Me and God know, and they are like worship to Him. In this way disciplines can train us into freedom, into participating fully in the Kingdom in certain areas. Just like in a close friendships, or in a marriage, these shared experiences are the places where the life giving relational fabric of life becomes luminous, where our lives are fully lived.

Disciplines are not meant to be law, they are meant to be a venture into the wide and open space of joy and freedom that is God’s kingdom. In which areas of your life do you want to enjoy spontaneous holiness? Practising an awareness of God’s empowering presence makes it possible, real change possible, that’s the promise of our lives in God.

Dallas Willard puts it like this:

Authentic Transformation is possible if we are willing to do one thing…to arrange our lives around the kind of practises and life Jesus led to be constantly receiving power and love from the Father.

This is the simple yet difficult life long work of becoming like Jesus that we venture on by practising disciplines.


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