Monday, December 03, 2007

Redefining Discipline

There is a book called Compassion that I have been reading throughout the fall. It's only 132 pages long. This book it full of things I need to stop and think about before I move on. So I'm making my way through it very slowly. And, frankly there are times when I was afraid to pick it up again because I haven't wanted to have to deal with whatever God might want to show me next.

Sometimes I need to stop on a particular page because God is shifting my thinking on something. I need time to reflect about how I used to understand something. I also need to really think about and pray about whether or not there is a biblical basis for a new perspective I am being introduced to.

Now for the real reason I wanted to write this post. One of the big challenges of walking with God is that His ways are not our ways. So when we use words to teach something God had given us to teach if we don't redefine a word we can unintentionally teach what we didn't mean to teach. (Hang with me this will make sense in a minute.)

Increasingly there is a call in books and magazines for the exercise of what is labeled "spiritual disciplines". The problem with using the word discipline is that from a worldly perspective it makes us think of ideas like efficiency and control that are very self-directed. In reading this book today I came across the best explanation I've seen so far on the difference between a worldly and a biblical perspective on discipline.

I am going to quote a couple of paragraphs but substitute patience for the virtue they used in the text because patience seems to be something that almost all of us can relate to being in need of:

"Discipline in the Christian life should never be construed as a rigorous method or technique to attain patience. Patience is not a skill that we can master by arduous training, years of study or careful supervision. Patience is a divine gift and not a result of systematic study or effort. At a time when many programs are designed to help us become more virtuous, we need to be reminded continuously that patience is not conquered but given, not the outcome of our hard work but the fruit of God's grace. In the Christian life, discipline is the human effort to unveil what has been covered, to bring to the fore ground what has remained hidden, and to put on the lamp stand what has been kept under a basket. It is like raking away the leaves that cover the pathways in the garden of our soul. Discipline enables the revelation of God's divine Spirit in us.

Discipline in the Christian life does indeed require effort, but it is an effort to reveal rather than to conquer. God always calls. To hear God's call and allow that call to guide our actions requires discipline in order to prevent ourselves from remaining or becoming spiritually deaf. There are so many activities distracting us that a serious effort is necessary if we are to become and remain sensitive to the divine presence in our lives."

Dear Lord,

We know that we can't make ourselves good. We try doing it through control Lord because its a familiar way to us of solving problems. We've all tried in countless ways on countless topics. Lord we try because we know you've called us to be good. We know that good is better than bad. We love you and desire to do the right and good thing. Lord help us to see, we can't do it through just making a decision to do the right thing. Help us to understand your role in revealing yourself to us. Help us to see what area of our life your wanting to work on. Your work is so individual and so perfectly planned. Help us to choose to want to be sensitive to your leading and submissive to your direction. Help us to be willing to put forth the effort this kind of living takes. Help us to stop fearing discipline but instead to appreciate your gifts to us through it.

In Jesus name, Amen.

(Compassion by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill and Douglas Morrison, pg. 88)

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