Celebration of Discipline

March 4, 2009

Several books have changed my life.

I don’t say that to be dramatic. People, places, and experiences can all represent turning points and crossroads in our lives, but many shifts in my way of thinking, many epiphanies that led to greater freedom, occurred while a different version of me was reading a book.

Book #1: The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

One of my mentors in high school, Lee Edwards, pointed me towards this book in which Foster does exactly what his title suggests. He celebrates the benefits of classic spiritual exercises.

The Church of Christ, or at least the ones that I attended growing up, didn’t offer much in the way of spiritual formation and intentional discipleship. I don’t mean to criticize a particular preacher or person, I just wanted more. I felt like the Gospel must mean more than behavioral modification, bible studies, prayer, service projects, and church attendance. Avoiding the Big Five—Drinking, Smoking, Cussing, Gambling, and Dancing—was paramount to be a good Christian.

I wanted to be good. And holy.

blackeyesusansWhere was the transformation? Where was the Holy Spirit tearing through our stolid worship services like a wildfire? Where was the passion, the mystery, the heart-rending beauty of grace? I carried around a dull ache for a personal God I had never known. I wanted God to be real but felt paralyzed, waiting for Him to strike me with some experiential knowledge of Him like a bolt of lightning. I ached for the presence of Him Who Created me.

Imagine if you lived your whole life in a house lit by candles. You knew where all the doors were, but they stayed locked. Sometimes, you thought you heard far off noises, laughter. A violin. A child singing. You were happy for the most part, yet even moments of intense joy had tinges of sadness.

The Holy Spirit worked through Richard Foster to throw open a door to the outside world. Now, imagine open country bathed in sunlight. Imagine discovering the desire and ability to run.

I can’t say that I implemented a rich mixture of spiritual disciplines as soon as I finished the book. Instead, I was filled with the desire to become the kind of person whose life was a rhythm of solitude, silence, prayer, study, fasting, hospitality, exercise, community, confession, and the others.montan

Foster taught me that spiritual exercise can sharpen my awareness of God’s constant presence in my life. To use another metaphor, I can’t make the seeds grow, but I can help God till the soil. This participation, this strengthening vision to see that God is already at work, has always been at work inside of me, gave me hope. God runs to embrace us like the loving father in the story of the prodigal son.

God gives us ways to watch for him and maybe even to sprint across that open country feeling his breath on our skin.

[More book recommendations to follow…]

4 Responses to “Celebration of Discipline”

  1. Austin L. Church Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Experience has taught me that these disciplines are best practiced in community. I encountered Stanley Hauerwas and his reader in my later years of undergrad, and he said something that has stuck with me: being a part of a community of pacifists is the only thing that has kept him a pacifist. I think this is true of all our deepest convictions and the practices that keep them sharp. Thank you for connecting, Kevin, and for your insights. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Simon Chan’s Spiritual Theology. Peace to you.

  2. Kevin Says:

    Foster’s book was immensely helpful and very much needed, even now some nearly thirty years after it was first printed. I wish he would have place the disciplines more squarely in the body of Christ rather than in the scope of individual practice. I think that the company of the faithful enhances and magnifies the potential impact of the disciplines. You may want to take a look at Simon Chan’s Spiritual Theology, not so much a how to manual but more of a systematic approach of the theology behind the practices.

  3. Austin L. Church Says:

    I own it, but I haven’t started reading it yet. Typical.

  4. Erin Says:

    I also love Foster’s “Prayer.”

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