Friday, September 21, 2007

Spiritual Disciplines and Intense Desire

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Christian discipleship is about learning. It means that one is in training. As you can probably tell, the word “discipleship” is related to the word “discipline.” To be in training, following a discipline (a practice, a habit, a rule) means that one is learning to do what has not yet become natural to them. Thankfully, there comes a point when one moves from doing things as a matter of discipline and training and becomes “second nature.” One moves from doing things merely because he ought to do so, to doing them simply because it is the desire of his heart.

Yes, we should all have an intense desire to fellowship with Christ. We should be loaded with desire, as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection discovered, to do all things for His sake. Brother Lawrence, however, called this “the practice of the presence of God.” He had a desire to be full of desire for God, and he practiced that desire to be full of desire until he truly was full of desire for God — and God filled it.

So it is good to have some practical spiritual disciplines that help us focus on the things that we ought to be focused on. Many times, I do experience an intense desire for fellowship with Christ; other times not so much. I know what it is like to be like Mary, focused on the one thing, the good part; but I also know what it is to be like Martha, worried and troubled about many things. The value of practical spiritual disciplines is that they can help us make room to hear the voice of the Lord; and hearing His voice, faith comes and desire awakens.

We have been much discipled by the world and/or a church that has been much infected with the faithless way the world thinks. So we not only have to be delivered from the ways and thoughts of the world, we need to be discipled, trained in the ways and thoughts of God.

Spiritual disciplines and practices can be good “tools” toward that end. They do not change God; they change us, preparing us to receive what God has already graciously promised and provided. To suppose that they change God would be nothing more than magical thinking. Our relationship with God is not a mechanical one, but a personal one, and the disciplines, when properly approached, help us empty out and make room for that relationship. Brother Lawrence had a wonderful relationship with God, experiencing his presence just as much in the kitchen as in the chapel — but notice that he described it as practicing the presence of God.” The discipline he adopted helped him enter into that place of relationship.

The disciplines can be very good servants, but terrible masters. Apart from dependence upon the grace of God, they can quickly become a cage. But when approached with faith in God and His promises, they can provide a good framework for exploring our new life in Christ, helping us become more aware of Him. They help us do what we sing at Christmastime: “Let every heart prepare Him room.”

There may be thousands of ways that a Christian can practically implement a truth from God's Word. If one particular method doesn’t work for you, there is another one that will. When Brother Lawrence first joined the Carmelite monks, he considered a number of practical suggestions and spiritual practices, but he found none that fit. That was when he decided he would simply practice the presence of God (you can read how he went about this in his little book The Practice of the Presence of God).

A good spiritual discipline or practice can help you empty out the many distracting things so that you may have an intense desire for the one thing, the good part — fellowship with the Lord Jesus. He will fill it, and He will never take it away.

To learn more about spiritual disciplines and how they might be of help to you, read The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard.