The Spiritual Disciplines: Inward

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Have you ever experienced a moment or a season where it seems like the Father is being so obvious it's almost ridiculous? For me, that season was last summer. I came into the summer feeling out of sync with the Lord and not knowing how to get unstuck in my spiritual life. Right before the summer began, I read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. Almost immediately, every sermon, Bible study, or podcast I engaged with was about discipline. Learning about spiritual disciplines over that summer was a catalyst for most of the spiritual growth I've experienced over the last year. 

Last week, Ashton began a conversation about the spiritual disciplines. We both have grown closer to the Father through practicing spiritual disciplines, and throughout the rest of Lent, we'll be sharing what we're learning. Today, I'm here to share with you the first of three different categories of spiritual disciplines: the inward disciplines.

The inward disciplines are the most internal of all of the disciplines, and are a good starting point for our discussion of the spiritual disciplines. The four inward disciplines are meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. 

Meditation

What it is: This discipline is one of the more abstract concepts, but is rooted in a beautiful simplicity. Richard Foster says, "Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey His Word." When put like that, meditation becomes less intimidating. The goal of meditation is intimacy with and reverence for God. Meditation doesn't always lead to massive spiritual revelations (though it can); it's more about letting the Father guide us in the ordinary parts of life. As believers, we have access to God's presence and can hear firsthand from Him. Jesus often withdrew to meditate and be with the Father (Matthew 14:13).

What it isn't: Up until recently, I thought meditation meant yoga, sitting cross-legged, and humming with my eyes closed. This is typically what is associated with more Eastern thoughts of meditation and emptying of the mind. For the Christian, the goal of meditation isn't to empty the mind, but rather to fill it with thoughts of God.

First steps:

  • Meditation thrives off two things that are often difficult to come by: quiet and stillness. A practical way to start meditation is to practice it right when you wake up or right before you go to bed. 
  • Slow down your breathing and your mind. In his discussion on meditation, Richard Foster notes that, "Our rushing reflects our internal state and our internal state is what needs to be transformed."
  • Read a passage of Scripture several times in a row, letting you feel its weight.
  • Take a walk and let creation remind you of the beauty and creativity of God.

Prayer

What it is: From my own experience, I've found prayer to be one of the most vital spiritual disciplines, yet also one of the most overwhelming and difficult. I've found freedom in prayer through realizing that I'll never stop learning how to pray. There will never be a moment where I've "arrived" and finally discovered a long lost secret of how to pray. Prayer is different for everyone. One of the hallmarks of the life of Jesus was prayer (Mark 1:35). 

What it isn't: Prayer doesn't have to be formal. Jesus taught us how to pray with a simple model (Luke 11:1). When we pray, we can come openly and honestly like children to our Father. Prayer isn't as much about asking for things; it's more about our will being transformed to the will of the Father. Through prayer, God teaches us to see as He sees and love as He loves.

First steps:

  • Listen. Prayer isn't about hearing our own voice; it's focused on hearing the voice of the Father. Often prayer begins with meditation. 
  • Be honest. This seems obvious, but honesty is one of the most difficult aspects of prayer for me. There's no one else who knows us better or who will accept our brokenness with more love than the Father. Honesty breeds freedom.
  • Find what works for you. I can't pray right when I wake up or before I go to bed, because I'll fall asleep. I pray better when I'm doing something like taking a walk, driving, or drinking coffee. Some people pray better in complete silence. Try different things and figure out what's best for you.

Fasting

What it is: Fasting is one of the more misunderstood spiritual disciplines. At the beginning of Lent, I talked more in depth about fasting. Foster says, "The central idea in fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity." Fasting is about recognizing what has power over us and consciously giving that over to God.

What it isn't: For the Christian, fasting centers on spiritual purposes. The first statement Jesus made about fasting had to do with the motive behind fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). The Pharisees had been fasting corruptly and selfishly, drawing attention to themselves whenever possible. Fasting is meant to be done with humility. 

First steps:

  • Know your body. Fasting doesn't mean starvation. Some people's bodies don't respond well to a complete fast from food. A fast can be as long or short as you desire and can be personalized to bring you closer to the Lord and keep your body healthy.
  • You don't have to fast from food. Fasting from food is one of the more common ways to fast, but there are many ways to fast. I've known people who have fasted from Netflix, social media, and sleeping in. Think about your life and what consumes most of your time, then think about what type of fast would be best.
  • Fasting should be inseparable from prayer. Denying yourself something that you've been used to will be difficult. Prayer allows us to engage with the strength of the Father, because we can never fast successfully on our own strength.

study

What it is: Study is a focused look at Scripture for the purpose of understanding its original meaning and its application to our lives. The key to study is context. Dig into not just the passage you're reading, but the book as a whole. Even if it's a passage you're familiar with, deep study will allow you to see the text in a new light.

What it isn't: Studying the Bible demands humility. We come to Scripture to be changed and to learn how to look more like Jesus. The discipline of study doesn't make you a better or more spiritual Christian than anyone else. It reveals us to be broken humans who desperately need to be transformed by the Word of God.

First steps (according to Richard Foster):

  • Repetition. Reading a passage through multiple times in a row allows you to become familiar with it and sets your mind more fully on the text.
  • Concentration. This is one of the more difficult aspects of study for many people. Often prayer and meditation are useful to help eliminate distractions and let you completely focus on what you're reading.
  • Comprehension. The first part of comprehension is understanding what the passage meant for the original audience. Commentaries and sermons can be good ways to learn more about the context and background of the passage. The second step is understanding how the truth presented in the passage should affect the way that you live. 
  • Reflection. This is the final step in study, and it causes us to examine the significance of what we're studying. There is a beautiful weight to reading the Word of God, and reflection allows us to ponder the significance of its truth.

In learning about the spiritual disciplines, I've become aware of how much they don't come naturally to me. But over time, I've found that discipline brings growth, which brings freedom. The spiritual disciplines aren't meant to weigh us down with obligations; they're meant to strengthen us and grow us into more of the people that we've been created to be. I hope that what I've shared helps you in your practice of the spiritual disciplines. Let me know in the comments what you're learning, so we can grow together.

Emma
lover of blankets, journals, and good pens

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