Saturday, February 20, 2016

Seminary PM4: There are certain classic spiritual disciplines for individuals.

The featured resource of the day is Richard Foster's classic, Celebration of Discipline. The Seminary in a Nutshell series so far:

Chapter 1: The Calling of a Minister

Chapter 2: The Person of a Minister
Ministers have different personalities and strengths
We each experience God best in different ways.

1. Every believer is a child of God. God is abba, Father, for every Christian. Spiritual disciplines are not only for ministers. They are gifts for every child of God. They are "means of grace." They are instruments that God uses to deepen our walk with him and our strength to love our neighbor as ourselves. Some of them are inward. Some of them are outward. Some of them are corporate.

2. One of John Wesley's sermons was on "The Means of Grace." He defines means of grace as "outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace." Grace is God's undeserved favor, his goodness dispensed to us even though we do not merit it.

In this particular sermon, Wesley especially singles out prayer, searching the Scriptures, receiving the Lord's Supper. Certainly he also considered baptism (normally infant baptism) a means of grace as well. Other means of grace include Christian fellowship, fasting, visiting the sick, helping others, and many more ways by which God communicates grace to his people. For Wesley, communion was a particularly important means of grace, one that he believed should be experienced as often as possible. [1]

3. In his classic work, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster classifies spiritual disciplines into three categories: inward disciplines, outward disciplines, and corporate disciplines. He does not of course include communion and baptism, the two means of grace that Protestants in particular consider to be sacraments, or means of grace God has especially ordained for the church to administer.

Foster mentions four inward disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. Wesley might have called these "works of vital piety."

The primary object of the Christian's meditation is the Scriptures, although God has also provided wisdom through countless others as well. When we read the Bible as Scripture, they become a means for God to change us, not an object of knowledge for us to master. Meditation, though, for Foster, involves filling the mind with thoughts about God.

Fasting is a way of focusing our attention on God, of freeing us from distraction and purifying our spirits. Prayer is both a way for God to meet and change us, as well as an opportunity God gives us to participate in his mission in the world. Study is a matter of worshiping God with our minds.

4. The four outward disciplines Foster mentions are simplicity, solitude, submission, and service. Wesley might have classified these as "works of mercy."

Living simply reminds us that material possessions are a distraction at best, destructive to our relationship with God at worst. Simplicity teaches us to rely on God. Solitude is easy for some of us, hard for others. Those of us who find solitude difficult need it all the more. Busy-ness is sometimes an excuse for us not to stop and listen to God's still, small voice.

Submission is also easy for some, difficult for others. Some of us like to take charge. But submission to those who are in authority is an earthly reminder of the fact that we are all under a heavenly authority. To confess Jesus as Lord is to confess him as the one who has absolute authority over us. Finally, God graces us with his presence as we serve others.

5. These spiritual disciplines are for all Christians, but God's ministers should be models of their practice. Ministers should model prayer and meditation on Scripture. Ministers should fast regularly and study. Ministers should take time for regular solitude, and should actively do acts of service.

"Personal devotions" are a time-honored way of accomplishing these disciplines. Each person finds a rhythm of time set aside to pray and search the Scriptures. Wesley himself fasted every week from the time after a Thursday evening meal until mid-afternoon on Friday. If ministers do not carve out a regular space for spiritual "feeding," they may find themselves turning into starving bakers--individuals who feed others the bread of life, but are starving from lack of spiritual nourishment themselves.

Next Week: Seminary Person of the Minister 5: There are classical spiritual disciplines for communities of faith.

[1] "The Duty of Constant Communion."

[2] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978).

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