As I mentioned on Monday, I have a goal for Lent this year and that is to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I’ve read it several times and am always amazed by new insights. Brandon had the opportunity to interview Foster recently which got me thinking about the book. In fact, we both came up with the idea to read it independently of one another, so now we’re doing it together and dialoging along the way. Good thing we have two copies, we don’t share books all that well. 🙂
So I have begun. I’ve been sick this week, so I didn’t make it as far as I wanted… in fact I only made it through the Introduction and 1st chapter, but that’s something, right?!
So I thought I would write today about the whole idea of disciplines in the Christian life. I am a rule follower. Just ask anyone in my family! I would blame it on Singapore… but it started long before them. What can I say? I love to follow rules.
Ah, Singapore... where else can you be fined for feeding a monkey a banana?
And one of my dangerous habits is that I like to make up rules as well. For example, when I was in second grade I became very frightened of the movie Child’s Play and especially it’s devilish little doll Chuckie. Nevermind that I had never seen the movie, I was petrified.
And how did I choose to deal with this fear? I formed a “Do you believe in Chuckie?” club with my friends, of course. We would meet together and discuss the things that scared us. We had rules to follow so that he wouldn’t get us.
And as we met together each day, we scared ourselves even more and made our parent’s lives a little bit more difficult.
During that same time I made up rules about showering (so the scary man outside my window wouldn’t get me…duh!), rules about which side of the bed to sleep on, how the covers should be tucked around me so that nothing got my feet….
And this habit didn’t stop with childhood. Just ask Brandon. One of his favorites is my obsessive rule about getting 8 hours of sleep. If I’m waking up at 6:10 a.m. and I want to get a full night’s sleep, then I must be in asleep by 10… or else I have failed, and will not rest enough…. I can’t remember the last time I got this 8 hours… but I feel the pressure of the rule regardless…
Rules. I love me some rules.
So, why would I decide to embark on a project of disciplines? Isn’t that only going to increase my problem with using rules as coping methods?
Foster begins his book by reminding us that by our own efforts we can do nothing about our sin. Did you hear that? There is nothing we can do about our own sin, at least not anything all by ourselves.
Our ordinary method of dealing with ingrained sin is to launch a frontal attach…we determine never to do it again; we pray against it, fight against it, set our will against it. But the struggle is all in vain, and we find ourselves once again morally bankrupt, or worse yet, so proud of our external righteousness that “whitened sepulchers” is a mild description of our condition.
When there is a persistent sin present in my life, I tend to want to “rule-it-out.” If I can just put a structure in place so that it doesn’t bother me, then it will all be okay.
I love what Foster says. We simply can’t do it on our own.
But that doesn’t mean we “let go and let God.” While a catchy phrase, it’s not exactly what Foster is talking about here. You see once we discover this freedom, it is tempting to believe there’s absolutely nothing we can do. Over the past few years I have been learning to let the rules go and have felt myself slip at times in the other direction. Righteousness is a gift from God, right? Should we just wait around for God to heal us? Why intentionally have a quiet time, God will speak to me when He wants, right?
The analysis is correct — human striving is insufficient and righteousness is a gift from God–but the conclusion is faulty. Happily there is something we can do. We do not need to be hung on the horns of the dilemma of either human works or idleness. God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his Cost of Discipleship, grace is free but not cheap. We are saved purely by the grace of God, not by anything we’ve done. But, we are required to do stuff.
Further down Foster writes
We must always remember that the path does not produce the change it only places us where the change can occur. This the path of disciplined grace.
And so this path begins. I’m looking forward to the journey. To rediscovering again the inward disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting and study; the outward disciplines of simplicity (we’re already on that path!), solitude, submission and service; and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship ,guidance and celebration.
I think this is the perfect Lenten project… and the perfect “mom-to-be” preparation!
Oh and stay tuned on Friday for my special blog update on our latest cleaning project. We had a great time sorting through our papers today… and are pretty pleased with the results!