Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Use of Discipline

Way back at the start of this bloggy part of my site, I was in the process of seeking out a new church as I continued along my spiritual journey through life.  And if you've followed along, you know that I landed at Graham Friends Church.  It is really non-denominational now, but has a strong Quaker background and only in the last decade or so left the North Carolina Meeting.  About a year ago I wrote about my decision to start tithing to the church.  Unfortunately, since then I have not written much about the church or religion.  I think at least a couple times my pastor has hoped I would do some more blogging as a way to give my testimony.  So, now I'm going to do a little bit of that for what it's worth.

And what, you may ask, has prompted me to put together a post about religion?  It was a question Pastor Mark asked us in our Sunday School class this past week.  But I should back up a little bit.  Starting back in September, the class I am in started a new curriculum called Renovation of the Heart.  It was created by Dallas Willard who wrote The Spirit of the Disciplines (which I sorely need to go out and buy to start reading).  It has been a good class so far, though I think we have gotten a bit sidetracked.

It is a good sidetrack as Mark has been providing us some instruction on how to do some seemingly simple tasks like pray or work through daily devotions.  On the prayer issue, he was teaching us about how some people are able to spend a whole day in prayer.  As he noted, and I have to agree, praying for more than a couple minutes can become a struggle, especially with staying focused.  So one of the tools he taught us was the Benedictine method of prayer, Lectio Divina.  To do it, you read some scripture, meditate, write about what you read and meditated on, and then speak out loud (even if it is to yourself) - either in prayer or reading The Bible.  By taking a passage in The Bible and working through it using the Lectio Divina method, you can quickly spend an hour in "prayer".  As you might note, prayer in this formula is more than just the typical bowed head speech with/to God.  It is communicating with Him through several different methods - reading His Word, time in meditation with Him, and yes, speaking out loud.  Looking back through my notes, I also see where we discussed spending this much time and effort on prayer as part of voluntary exile, another of the disciplines.

Mark also taught us a pattern for doing daily devotions that he uses.  The first step was figuring out when to engage in this activity.  While anytime will work, he recommended the early morning hours, pre-dawn, based on Genesis 3:8 which mentions Adam and Eve walking in the Garden of Eden with God "in the cool of the day".  In his case, he gets up and gets coffee ready, then hits his devotional.  He has his materials (The Bible, devotional books, paper, pen, computer) ready and in the same place every day.  He is able to work through his devotional and then he and his wife spend some time together in devotional before proceeding with the rest of his day.  One key point to success is that the devotional time is quiet and distractions are minimized.  Always a challenge in a house like mine with three kids and all the associated activities.

It sounds like a method that will work for me, so I have been working on trying to get set up to emulate his method.  The first step was figuring out a devotional to use.  I again turned to Mark's recommendation and picked up a copy of Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest.  A nice plus for me has been the fact that a new ESV Study Bible was just released and this past week my wife got me a copy for my birthday present.  I already have paper and pen.  The final step has been to get in my office and clean things up a bit so I can have a nice, clean, organized, non-distracting environment to work in.  So my plan at this point is to start off getting up early on Wednesdays and try to do this once a week (and yes, getting up early is a struggle for me - my body's natural rhythm would be to sleep from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m.).  If I can do that, then hopefully I can start expanding to more days each week.  An interesting side effect of all this preparation has been that I find myself picking up the devotional or The Bible at other times and spending some time in study.

We have also been discussing on several occasions some of the disciplines that Willard has written about.  These include disciplines like prayer, worship, reading The Bible, devotionals, fasting, meditation, and fellowship.  The question that Mark asked this past week was whether we had been able to incorporate any of the disciplines into our daily lives.  My initial reaction was "probably not", but on further reflection I think I probably am slowly starting to use many of them.

As mentioned a moment ago, I am finding myself reading The Bible on a much more regular basis.  Not sure I have achieved a "discipline" with regards to my reading, but I am in The Scripture more often.  And even though I have not yet started my daily devotional, I have been opening up My Utmost for His Highest and picking days at random to read through (and I even spent one night this week actually studying the passages mentioned in the devotional).

I have also employed some "fasting" in some areas of my life where I have challenges.  That could be worked on some more to make sure I use the time created by my fasting getting closer to God.  Fellowship has been coming along.  I've been making it to church about every Sunday, but I definitely need to step up my efforts to fellowship with other church members outside of Sunday morning.  That might be helped some with a study group for men that Pastor Mark is trying to get started.  And overall, I feel like I've been spending more time in prayer.  And writing this blog entry has resulted in some additional study and review, so it is probably helping me as well.

So, I'll see how it goes over the next couple months.  I'll try to spend some more time writing to let folks know how things are going.

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