Spiritual disciplines are like ‘habits of effectiveness’ for the spiritual life, much like exercises, are used to develop habits of effectiveness for other areas of life (sport, music or language). Richard Foster says, “The disciplines place us before God so that God can transform us.” They get us in God’s presence so he can grow us. A ‘discipline’ is an activity within our power that enables us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort. The effect of the discipline is to enable us to do what needs to be done when and as it needs to be done (see Mt.26:41. Josh.1:8. Ps. 119:9, 11). Today we want to talk about a number of spiritual ‘disciplines’ or ‘exercises’ that can help us change and grow.
1. Celebration. Choose to celebrate. Choose to enjoy God and the life he has given you. Joy is at the heart of God’s plan for human beings because joy is at the heart of God himself. The trouble is that most of us seriously under-estimate God’s capacity for joy. The truth is God is the happiest being in the universe. Yes, he also knows sorrow, but like his anger that is only a temporary response to a fallen world. Joy is God’s basic character and as people created in his image, he wants us to know joy in life (Ex.23:14. Dt.26:11; 28:47-48. Ps.16:11. Jn.15:11-12). Jesus lived a life of joy and celebration – despite the fact that he was acquainted with grief and sorrow. He calls us to do the same.
We can make a choice to rejoice – to embrace an attitude of gratitude that focuses on the good things in life rather than the bad (Phil.4:4. 1 Thess.5:16. Ps.9:2). You can be a joyful person. The biblical writers would not command it if it were not possible. But joyfulness is a learned discipline. We have to take responsibility for our joyfulness and for some of us this may not come easily. Too many Christians never engage in the discipline of celebration. They’re grumpy, sombre and negative. They don’t laugh enough. Let’s face it, most of us worry too much, complain too much and get angry too often. We lose our joy over the silliest things!
The psalmist says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!” He doesn’t say, “Yesterday was God’s day – how happy was I then.” Nor does he say, “Tomorrow will be the great day – I’ll just endure things until then.” He says, “This is the great day to rejoice!” True joy, it turns out, is often ‘in spite of’ something. If we don’t rejoice today, we may not rejoice at all. If we wait until conditions are perfect, we will still be waiting when we die. If we are going to rejoice, it must be in this day.
Celebration can literally change the climate of your inner and outer world! Things such as praise, worship and thanksgiving are all ways we can celebrate God. When we don’t celebrate, we get caught up in the negativity and temptations of this world and we greatly hinder our own personal growth. We become ‘victims’ to our circumstances. When we choose to celebrate, we embrace the very heart of God and his joy can transform our inner world. We become ‘victors’ over our circumstances.
2. Prayer. Talk to God. Obviously, prayer is an important part of developing our relationship with God but it is also a spiritual discipline to help us grow and change. Talk to God – praise and thank him, tell him how you feel, ask for his help, talk to him about others and pray for them (intercession), use your spiritual language and listen for his voice (listening prayer). Some people find the use of a journal or diary helpful so they can write out their prayers (Ps.82:8).
Jesus was a man of prayer and he calls us to be people of prayer (Mt.14:22-23. Lk.6:12). God responds to heartfelt honest prayer. He is not looking for empty tradition or religiosity. Just consider Jesus’ many teachings on prayer (Mt.6:5-15. Lk.18:9-14). Other people can pray for you but no one can do your praying for you! There’s no single ‘right way’ to pray - just do it! Find a quiet place OR talk to him in your car on the way to work or pray silently in the midst of a crowd. Learn to ‘practise the presence of God’ (Brother Lawrence) by being aware of him all throughout the day. This is a discipline that you can learn.
When we don’t pray, we’re basically saying, “God I don’t need you right now, I’m coping quite fine by myself.” When we choose to pray, we’re saying, “God, I love you and I need you in my life.” The difference between those two approaches makes all the difference in the world when it comes to who you are becoming and the amount of change taking place in your heart and life.