The Spiritual Disciplines: Outward

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This season of Lent hasn't been easy for me. This is the first year that I have observed Lent, and I've been personally focusing on practicing the spiritual disciplines. Last week we looked at the inward disciplines, and today we're learning about the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. It's not easy for me to give myself grace when I fail at the disciplines, but that's part of the beauty of transformation. As we learn discipline in our daily lives, we see our shortcomings and grow into more of who the Father has created us to be.

simplicity

What it is: In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster voices the need for Christians "to articulate new, more human ways to live." This is where simplicity enters the picture. Simplicity means focusing on what truly matters. We then experience a sweet freedom when we're not worried about status or possessions.

What it isn't: Simplicity isn't slavery; it's freedom. Jesus frequently challenged people to think about what they allow to rule in their lives (Luke 16:13). Simplicity reminds us that if we focus on Jesus, other things will begin to fall into place. Foster says that "simplicity sets possessions in proper perspective."

Love people, use things. The opposite never works.
— The Minimalists

First steps:

  • Foster lists three inner attitudes that help us in the pursuit of simplicity:
    • Receive what we have as a gift from God
    • Know that it's God's business and not ours to care for what we have
    • Have our goods available to others
  • Foster also gives guidance for outward expressions of simplicity. Here are a few of his suggestions:
    • Reject anything that's producing an addiction in you
    • Develop a habit of giving things away
    • Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation
    • Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others
    • Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God
  • The Minimalists have a documentary and several books that show the benefits of living with less. Right now I'm reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and I'm learning how to simplify my life.

solitude

What it is: Solitude starts with taking time to be alone. Solitude and silence let us remove ourselves from the noise of the world in order to be filled up by the Father. Richard Foster says that "the fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others. There comes a new freedom to be with people." Jesus constantly sought out moments of solitude and communion with God (Mark 1:35, Luke 6:12).

What it isn't: This discipline isn't just for introverts; all followers of Jesus, regardless of personality, need to be alone and still. Solitude isn't loneliness. Foster says, "Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment." Solitude shows us that our purpose is found in God, instead of with others. Ultimately, it reminds us that we aren't alone.

First steps:

  • Take advantage of little moments of solitude (walking to class, time in the car, drinking coffee in the morning, etc.)
  • Pick a designated place to spend moments of solitude (your porch, a chair in your room, etc.)
  • Schedule time in your planner each week to spend time in solitude
  • Give yourself grace for days when it's difficult to find moments of solitude, or when you get distracted
  • I recently finished listening to this sermon series on Silence and Solitude from Bridgetown Church. It's worth checking out.

submission

What it is: Submission is putting others ahead of ourselves. This frees us from always having to get our own way and allows us to truly value other people. Jesus submitted to others by valuing women and children and washing the feet of His disciples. He gave us the ultimate example of submission through His death on the cross (Phil. 2:8).

What it isn't: Submission doesn't mean that we let people walk all over us. It also doesn't mean that we have a negative view of ourselves. Submission is rooted in humility. Foster says that "self-denial declares that we are of infinite worth and shows us how to realize it." In order to love people well, we first have to love ourselves well.

First steps:

  • Foster suggests we can work on submission in several ways:
    • Submission to God
    • Submission to Scripture
    • Submission to family
    • Submission to the body of Christ
    • Submission to the broken and despised (James 1:27)
  • Read the Gospels and reflect on how Jesus' life was devoted to submission to the Father

service

What it is: Like submission, service is also rooted in humility. Service takes our selfish human desires and transforms them through our surrender. "When we choose to be a servant, we surrender the right to decide who and when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable," says Foster. As believers, we should always be looking for ways that we can lay down our desires in order to serve others. Jesus modeled selfless service through giving His life for us (Matthew 20:25-28).

What it isn't: Service shouldn't be something that we just do randomly; it should be a state of mind. When we serve, we shouldn't seek for our service to be recognized by others. We also shouldn't expect that we are going to be served as a result of our service to other people.

First steps:

  • Foster offers several ways that we can serve in our daily lives:
    • Listening to others
    • Hospitality
    • Allowing others to serve us
    • Guarding the reputations of others
    • Bearing each other's burdens
    • Sharing the Word of Life with each other
  • Ask the Lord to open your eyes to little ways that you serve throughout your day. This could be as simple as opening the door for someone or paying for the coffee of the person behind you.

Practicing these four disciplines hasn't been easy for me over the past few weeks, but I have felt the Father growing me. In our practice of these disciplines, it is vital to approach them with humility and to study them in community. In these blogs, we're moving quickly through the disciplines, but these are practices that take time, grace, and the encouragement of other believers. I hope that our discussion of the disciplines is encouraging you to pursue a disciplined and more Christlike life.

Emma

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