Contemplative Corner – “Why Practice Spiritual Disciplines?”

Despite the explosion of technology with which we consume ourselves, we have come to a glaring and crucial reality, none of our gadgets can overcome the destructive habits and emptiness that lives deep within. No technology can produce the character transformation we so desperately need. Do you yearn for a deeper, richer inner life? Is there something that stirs inside you when you hear words like solitude, silence, simplicity? Maybe you want to make changes to your life but struggle to find the strength and power to do so. The primary spiritual problem in our contemporary culture is distraction. The endless stream of internet links, daily blogs, texts, emails, and mindless scrolls through Facebook bombard us with requests and demands for our attention. We need to be still, quiet, and alone to hear God.

Spiritual disciplines are the means God uses for producing in us needed transformation of heart, mind, and soul. God is always working to transform us into the image of Christ. God uses the spiritual disciplines to build within us a person characterized by peace, joy and freedom. The spiritual disciplines are not a way to earn or work our way into heaven, but rather to place us, body, mind, and spirit before God. God then steps into our actions, and over time and experience, produces in us the formation of heart, mind, and soul for which we long and God desires.

It is through spiritual practices that we enter a deeper interactive relationship with God. God invites us into a variety of spiritual disciplines, and we enter into them the best we can. Character formation of our inner being does not happen overnight. God’s work of the soul is slow and takes patience, stillness, and perseverance throughout this liberating process.

Some practices are formal and intently liturgical; others are more spontaneous and free flowing. The actual practices are as varied and creative as human personality itself. Key to the spiritual disciplines is that they are actions of the body, heart, mind, and soul that we actually do, such as prayer, meditation, study, service, and worship, to name a few. They are not ideas or concepts we study or debate, but practice. We learn from the Gospels Jesus undertook spiritual practices as a fixed pattern of his life. Throughout Christian history we find that spiritual leaders focused their lives and writings on these life-giving disciplines. Through the spiritual disciplines God frees us from soul crushing habits and patterns that destroy our lives or hold us back from becoming the true self that God created us to be.

Living the practice of spiritual disciplines as a way of life is for ordinary people, like you and me. Some question if by focusing on inward matters, we will neglect outward needs. In the face of the needs of thousands who suffer tragedy, sorrow, and agony, will not such spiritual inward focus produce pious selfishness? Such a concern fails to understand the thrust of the spiritual disciplines themselves. Deeply imbedded in their exercise is social righteousness that pours forth from the “white-hot love of God” which of necessity drives us into compassionate love of our neighbor. Richard Foster says, “True godliness does not turn us away from hurting, bleeding humanity. Rather it enables us to live fully alive in the midst of human need and enlivens our abilities to bring a healing presence to the bruised and broken around us.” The only way we can love, serve and help transform our communities and world is to first be transformed into the image of Christ, then we will love like Christ loved.

“The word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.”  Luke 5:15-16