Discipline. We Americans have a love/hate relationship with the word. We like it in certain settings. “She is very disciplined”, referring to someone who exercises regularly or keeps a healthy diet. “He is a disciplined investor”, and we are in awe of the person’s ability to accumulate wealth.
However, if I say “Spiritual Disciplines” I will be met with mostly blank stares. Even in church this seems to be a lost art. And truth be told, I am a fairly recent “convert”, as it were, to this most ancient of practices. Our current American culture generally dislikes serious thought. It is obsessed with the “easy answer”, how many times have you heard the phrase “just google it”? Now, there are a multitude of things for which that is a reasonable solution. “How to change the oil in my car?” “What is the nearest Fast Food place?” “Who is the lead singer of ‘Toad the wet sprocket’?” But for serious questions, it is insufficient: “Who should I marry?” “Why does the universe exist?” “What is the best way for a society to organize itself?”. But for spiritual matters it is even seriously more unsuited: “Is there a God?” “Why does God care what I do?”
Even more than serious thought, our culture disdains serious application of Faith. And that is capital F Faith. If one is a modern spiritualist and dabble in Eastern Mysticism and combine it with Environmental Worship, then hey, you are an enlightened human being. But if your religion claims to have the ultimate Truth that are not malleable to the current “hey if it floats your boat” mentality and you base your life on those truths, then you are a closed minded bigot. The modern equivalent of shunning.
Which is why this post follows hot on the heels of my post Catechism: Lessons in Truth. In the book Grounded in the Gospel the authors make a very clear point: one of the greatest arguments for catechism is that the world is ALWAYS catechizing us. It screams: “Buy our car”, “buy our food” “use our services” “greed is good” “make your own heaven on earth” “our product will make you feel better about yourself” “people will like you if you buy our clothes” “whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” “look at naked women, it doesn’t hurt anyone” and it only gets more sordid from there. We are pounded constantly with this chatter.
God knew this would happen. In Deuteronomy He commands “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Here of course He is referring to the Law as given to Moses. We have someone even greater to teach us, Yeshua Messiah, Jesus the Christ himself. Deuteronomy is the second most quoted book by Jesus, with Psalms being the first (which if you want to understand the power of His prayer life, this is a primary indicator of its source).
God knows we need instruction. Through the Apostle Paul He commands us to “put on the mind of Christ” and “Put on the full armor of God.” And by the Apostle Peter He warns us “Satan goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he should devour.” Spiritual discipline is necessary because an enemy seeks to harm us. Satan prefers to find us unarmed and unready.
Jesus shows us the primary method of being disciplined: prayer and scripture. He prays in the morning before anyone else is up. He prays all night at Gethsemane. Hand in hand with this is knowledge of scripture. He can quote it. Just as God is both Three and One, I am sure that Prayer and Scripture is also a both/and combo. One feeds the other which feeds the other, which feeds the other. Pick one and the other will follow. It takes discipline. It means cutting out the time needed to engage in the practice.
It’s why it’s called Spiritual Discipline.