Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

A few days ago my husband and I listed to a recording about personal spiritual discipline, given by Pastor Lynn Downing at an Embers to a Flame conference.  The sad thing I learned from this CD, is that according to a survey done by the Dobson organization, only 9% of professing Christians acknowledge that they are living their lives from a Christian worldview.  The vast majority of us are more influenced by the culture than by Scripture.

The only way to turn this trend around is to practice personal spiritual disciplines.  Although we in no way “earn” our salvation, it is Biblically reasonable that our growth in grace will be in direct proportion to how we use the disciplines of God’s grace which are available to us. These disciplines are a means (channel or process) through which God leads us into a deeper, richer, more intimate relationship with Him.* Here are the disciplines that Pastor Downing mentions:

  1. Scripture — the Supreme Court of decision making for every Christian
  2. Prayer — the most important subject in practical religion;  we should always respond to Scripture with prayer
  3. Fellowship — A get together where the Lord becomes the topic of our conversation
  4. Church Discipline of two types:  Formative (Discipling) and Corrective (sometimes we need another person to see the way we are living is detrimental to our family and the church)
  5. The Church — teaching, preaching and the sacraments

The big surprise and takeaway — personal spiritual discipline is not personal!  When we put our emphasis on the individual’s personal relationship with Christ, we are missing the point that we relate to our Lord as part of His body.  Many Christians are never told:

  • Salvation is more than individual — it is meant to further the growth of the Church and to demonstrate God’s righteousness for His name’s sake
  • Body (church) welfare trumps personal preference
  • True personal spiritual welfare results from serving the Body (church) in obedience to the Head (Christ)
  • To live exclusively is to compete against the Body (church)

This certainly ties into our theme of Spiritual Gifts.  I have always felt that God calls each of us to a congregation, just as He calls the Pastor.  We’re where we are because we have a gift that is needed in that time and place.  Yes, there may be times and reasons to change churches, but it should never be because of personality conflicts or a seeking after the personal programs that best suit or entertain us.  The big question in our church membership is:  Is this a place where I can work with others to serve God?

*Note to Lutherans:  Pastor Downing (a Presbyterian) categorizes all these things as means of grace;  according to the Lutheran definition there are only two items in this category:  God’s Word and the Sacraments.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t important ways to know and experience God.

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No Limits Attached

In a previous post, I wrote about the talk by Pastor Lynn Downing our Fanning the Flame team listened to together.  In that talk, Pastor Downing stated that true repentance means allowing God to change us in accordance with His will –NO LIMITS ATTACHED.  That reminded me of a quote by Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, professor and author of many book on spirituality.  Here’s Henri’s confession about that:

“I love Jesus, but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus.  I love Jesus, but want to hold onto my own independence even when it brings me no real freedom.  I love Jesus, but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues even when their respect does not make me grow spiritually.  I love Jesus, but do not want to give up my writing, travel, and speaking plans even when they are often more to my glory than God’s.”

I suspect we all have a list like this;  I know I do.  I love Jesus, but don’t want to give so much of my income to the needy that I can’t buy what I want, go out to dinner or take vacations. I love Jesus, but I don’t want to give up all or even part of my secular reading and tv shows in order to spend more time in prayer and study.  I love Jesus, but I still like to impress others with my accomplishments — and so on.  My point?  I’m still pretty far from that “no limits attached” ideal of repentance.  I guess this is what Luther meant in his first thesis — living a life of repentance is a life-long project.

In later life, Henri Nouwen did grow closer to NO LIMITS ATTACHED.  He went to work at a facility for the disabled, became a chaplain and caregiver, and always took one of the residents with him on speaking engagements.  He repented of his pride and neediness and He did allow God to change him. With God’s help you and I can do the same.