Spiritual Disciplines: Risks and Benefits

Lately, I’ve been trying to invest more in spiritual practices and disciplines. I was raised Protestant and Evangelical, so a lot of the church’s rich history of traditions and practices just weren’t talked about.

Tradition isn’t really that helpful, I’ve been told a billion times.

Tradition is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing, the logic goes. But just so you know, tradition and spiritual practices can be dangerous. They make being a Christian all about rules and spiritual checklists and takes the focus off of loving people and getting to know God more.

I get that, I do. I’ve been told it all my life. But it’s starting to feel like a bit of an extreme view. I don’t want to be so scared of falling into legalism that I pretend tradition, structure, and disciplines just don’t exist.

I’m ready for more.

I want to know God better … in a deeper way… and I want to explore the parts of faith and a life centered in Jesus that I haven’t been exposed to before.

So I’m reading new authors. I’m being more intentional and structured about prayer and reading Scripture. It’s been amazing. I’m learning new things about God and seeing things in new ways.

Lately, in my efforts towards incorporating spiritual disciplines, I’ve noticed a theme emerging:

Me: Look, Jesus! I’m giving up sugar and meat for a while. Isn’t that cool? I’ll hear you (leading me and directing my life) more clearly now, right?

Jesus: That’s neat. But here’s a situation where you can choose to either focus on Christian practices or on spending time with your family … when they’re sick, and spending time with them is inconvenient for you. Which one do you think I care more about?

Later…

Me: Look, Jesus! I bought this really neat book written by a monk. It’s all about practical ways to live a life focused on you. I’m going to spend my afternoon reading it. Pretty cool of me, huh?

Jesus: Great. So also–here’s an opportunity to spend your afternoon helping and talking to a friend who is really hurting right now. But sure, you could just stay here and keep reading your book.

When I focus on spiritual disciplines, I’ve sensed God more presently in times when it had meant a ton. I’ve felt God’s guidance and direction more clearly. If spiritual disciplines are like working out, the benefits of being more spiritually fit are pretty hard to ignore.

But there’s a reason Protestants are so averse to structure, traditions and practices. It’s a sort of extreme response to a very real concern: not wanting our faith to fall into the trap of legalism — of valuing the practice more than Jesus. And to be more focused on rules than on trying to become more like Jesus (and act as he would here today.)

I want increase my focus on practice, structure, and disciplines, as long as I realize they’re not the ultimate goal.

Spiritual disciplines are great tools, but Christ should still be at the center. As soon as he’s not, that’s the danger. That’s one of the ways that religious people get so incredibly off-course.

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