To Lack Nothing: Why Practice and Teach Spiritual Disciplines?

Prayer, reading the Bible, fasting, singing: We know these are good things, but how can we stay motivated to do them? How do we teach them to our students when the results often aren’t obvious? Arlyn reminds us that spiritual disciplines, like other kinds of disciplines, make regular contributions to our character. In the end, these practices prove vital.

Consider your own spiritual disciplines, and how you can share the power of this lifestyle with your students.

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What Are the Spiritual Disciplines?

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How about if the spiritual disciplines were like teaching academic material? After each lesson, you can stop and ask your students, “Now, what did you just learn?” And at least on the good days, they can give a response with a concrete answer.

Well, not so with the disciplines. They’re more, I think, like shaping the character of their students. One day, you’ll see flashes of brilliance, as they respond to situations just like you’ve been training them to do. The next day, you’ll see responses that make you wonder if they’ve learned anything all year long. As we practiced the disciplines, we allow God to shape our character through them. And some days, we’ll see progress, and other days, we won’t.

Why should we practice this spiritual discipline? Listen to James’s exhortation from chapter one. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

“The purpose of practicing the spiritual discipline is not to see how many chapters of the Bible we can read, or how long we can pray, nor is it found in anything else that can be counted or measured. We’re not necessarily more godly because we engaged in these biblical practices. Instead, these biblical practices should be the means that we result in true godliness, that is, intimacy with and conformity to Christ” (Donald Whitney).

Dallas Willard quotes Oswald Chambers in a radical way of thinking about the Sermon on the Mount. “The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Jesus Christ.” Is that how you think about it? “The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.”

Willard continues, “In other words, no one ever said, ‘If you want to be a great athlete, go vault 18 feet, or run the mile under four minutes, or if you want to be a great musician, play the Beethoven Violin Concerto.’ Instead, we advise the young artist or budding athlete to enter a certain kind of overall life. One involving deep associations with qualified people as well as rigorously scheduled time diet and activity for the mind and body.”

Is Jesus your hero? Do you want to be like him? Check out the record of his life in the gospels.

If I mentioned Captain Sullenberger, how many of you have a good idea of what I’m going to quote? In case you’ve forgotten, he was the captain the US Airways flight in January of ’09 that hit a large flock of geese just soon after leaving La Guardia airport in New York. It knocked out both engines. He and his co-pilot managed to land the plane on the Hudson River, in what experts say was an extremely unlikely save. You remember that now?

His famous quote is worth repeating here. “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I was making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And, on January 15, the balance was sufficient that I can make a very large withdrawal.”

That resonates with me. If we want to make the right emotional and verbal responses in the worst of situations, we will need to subject ourselves to rigorous, tireless, daily training, to making those small deposits. Day, after day, after day.

And it’s called discipline. Spiritual discipline.

This is an excerpt from a presentation at Teachers’ Week 2018 on the relationship between teaching and the spiritual disciplines. To purchase the series, visit Christian Learning Resource.

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Teachers Week 2018
Publication Date: August 10, 2018
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