Being Methodical – Embracing Spiritual Disciplines
The great Christian theologian and spiritual mentor Dallas Willard opens his epic book, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God,
with a profoundly insightful tragic story. He writes: “Recently a pilot was practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet fighter. She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent – and flew straight into the ground. She was unaware that she had been flying upside down.
“This is a parable of human existence in our time – not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that – but most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed, and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side up. Indeed, we are haunted by a strong suspicion that there may be no difference – or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant” (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God
, pp. 1-2).
Such phrasing is surely descriptive of our age and time. We live at a pace of life that is simply unsustainable. In the midst of our times, bombarded by instant news, assaulted by more input than we can possibly process, we remain committed to being follows of Christ.
This is not a new enterprise. The quest for faithfulness in confusing and even chaotic times is one that all Christians who have gone before and all who come after us have or will wrestle with. How is that we - moment by moment, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year - walk in the way of Christ? To be sure, we have primary and basic guidance from Holy Scripture. Consider ….
- He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
- You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)
- Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. (Matthew 28: 19-20)
- You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. (Ephesians 2:8-10a)
As powerful and strengthening as these biblical admonitions are we need something more.
Ardent conviction and sincere intent alone are not enough. We need a method, a way of practicing the Christian faith such that walking with Christ becomes our habit, our natural way of living. Years ago Jolynn and I took country western dancing class. The instructor used to say that we needed to develop “muscle memory” for our dancing. (Unfortunately my muscles were exceptionally challenged!)
The Wesleyan Way is energized by just such thinking and acting. Wesley looked back at the earliest Christians, examined the faithful saints down through the ages, and appropriated a “methodical” way to be a faithful Christian. It involved what we call today “spiritual disciplines.”
While the list varies, the spiritual disciplines are at least in part made up of foundational activities. At a minimum they consist of:
- Quiet time for contemplation of the Holy Spirit and prayer
- Searching the Scriptures (as Wesley put it, we might say Bible reading and study)
- Regular worship including regular participation in Holy Communion
- Watching over one another in love through small group discipleship (class meeting)
- Works of love, justice and mercy
- Giving both financially and of our time
All this and more is, must!, take place in the context of community- the very Body of Christ called the Church. If you read my above list carefully, you will notice two things. First, it is not new, this is already an a clear reflection of the witness of Scripture, the practices of the earliest disciples and each succeeding generation of the faith down through almost 2,000 years of Christian history. The second thing you will notice is that my list is incomplete. It needs to be filled out, to be written by each of us in our individual contexts.
No one, absolutely no one, lives a life of faithful discipleship by themselves. We all live in community with Christ and each other. Our methodical practices will ultimately be under the influence of the how the Spirit shapes us for the better.
I leave the reader with a comment from Professor Jason Vickers:
In the postmodern West, the church is beset by two problems. First, in many quarters, we have lost confidence in the materials, persons, and practices that the Holy Spirit has given to the church for our healing and our salvation. We have lost confidence in the power of Scriptures and the sacraments to form and to transform our lives. We have lost confidence in the power of spirit-filled preaching and prayer to convict us of our sins and to assure us of our forgiveness. We have lost confidence in the power of the testimony of the saints to guide us into all truth. Put simply, we have lost confidence in the very resources by which the church lives and by which she is a source of the renewal of life and of holiness throughout the world. (Minding the Good Ground by Jason E. Vickers, pg. 94-95)
If we are to reclaim the Wesleyan Way, we must reclaim the spiritual disciplines in the habits of our living. This is the path to true holiness (Wesley’s holiness of heart and life) and thus the true path ultimately to deep joy and happiness. Reclaiming the Wesleyan Way involves hiking on the trail of the life well lived!