“I know God wants me to be a writer, but it is not going to happen over night. I am trying to be in God’s will, but it is getting me nowhere. I’ve stopped socially drinking. I go to church, pray, read the Bible; but I think it is time for me to stop taking and to start giving. I want to give myself to God as a vessel for spreading Christ. I just do not know where to start….”
I wrote this in my on-and-off again journal when I was twenty-one. I had such a desire to follow God, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no previous Spirit-led example to fall back on. I desperately grabbed onto Christian disciplines, hoping they would force me to have a better relationship with God. After about a year of getting “nowhere,” I fell back into a common life of social normality. The spiritual disciplines I had been taught did nothing to help me. What was I doing wrong?
Spiritual disciplines are part of the spiritual formula that equal a growing relationship with God. Jesus Himself fasted, read Scripture, prayed, sought solitude, worshiped, served, fellowshipped, submitted, abstained and sacrificed.* He did many of these spiritual disciplines in the private sphere of His life; so that when He entered the public sphere, He was able to do amazing and beautiful acts of love.
On my blog, I explore many spiritual disciplines. I desire to draw closer to God, and I know that emulating Jesus’ private life will help me to emulate His public life. However, spiritual disciplines are merely Christian motions that have no lasting effect unless we understand the formula of why we do them. Spiritual disciplines are only half of the equation. The other half is made up of three components: the product, the purpose and the push.
The product of spiritual disciplines is two-fold. First of all, spiritual disciplines humble us. We must be broken if we want to give the Holy Spirit access to mold us. Spiritual disciplines remind us that we are nothing without God, and they give us a healthy perspective of who we are in Christ. There is nothing like an empty belly, a dwindling bank account or a silent prayer closet to remind us that we are not the kings and queens of the universe. We are dependent on the Creator for everything, and we should have great joy that we have a spirit to soak up God’s glory.
Second of all, spiritual disciplines make us available to gain the knowledge of God: “and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2.3-6 NIV). God has knowledge He wants to give us, but we need to be seeking it. Spiritual disciplines are like tools that help us dig for godly insights. The more we wield our tools, the more we find treasures.
The purpose of spiritual disciplines is love. Just like a mathematical formula, if a student doesn’t understand the purpose of why she is finding “x,” she won’t fully understand the equation. Love is the root of spiritual disciplines. We do them because we love God, and we desire to have an intimate relationship with Him.
Finally, the push of spiritual disciplines is our obedience. Obedience is the only thing in this life that we can take credit for. God gives us everything: our bodies, brains, passions, talents and plans. However, God does give us free-will. We can choose to obey Him or not. I have learned that I can give people credit for their obedience, but the rest of the glory goes to God. Without obedience we have no momentum to move us into Christlikness. We can love God all we want; but if we do not have obedience, our spiritual growth will lag behind.
When I was twenty-one, I think part of the formula that I was missing was humility. I did not have a good example of how beautiful and beneficial the product of humility is in our lives. I saw people doing spiritual disciplines, but I didn’t see many people humbling themselves. Humility gets such a bad rap. Humility is actually the precursor to a bounty of blessings: wealth, honor, wisdom, life (Proverbs 22.4, 15.33, 11.2). I’ve realized that when I’m being humbled, I’m not being humbled to others. I’m being humbled to God. God just happens to use others to humble me. If I can get over my pride and my fear of others, humility wouldn’t be so painful. I desire to make the process of humility look good.
For you the formula might be missing something else. Maybe you saw plenty of spiritual humility but not enough push (obedience). Or maybe you saw lots of obedience, but the purpose of love was never evident. Whatever the case may be, Christians need the entire formula to experience accelerated spiritual growth.
(product + purpose + push) * spiritual disciplines = spiritual growth
I was horrible in math — especially algebra — so if you have a better formula, by all means use it!
* Spiritual disciplines and explanations can be found in The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard.