A journey of faith requires extraordinary discipline. Perhaps the three most essential disciplines are Discipline of the Heart, which is our inner being; Discipline of the Word, the Bible; and, Discipline of the Community, the church. These spiritual disciplines call for discernment, accountability and direction to overcome our resistance and deafness about God’s will for us. In unison, these disciplines lead us to become free and obedient servants of the Lord. They allow us to become persons who hear God’s voice even when it is calling us on faith to unknown or uncomfortable places.
Godly living itself is a journey of faith. Oftentimes the path we are challenged to walk is not obvious nor are some of the things God expects us to do along the way. 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV) tells us “For we live by faith, not by sight.” Those words seem simple and straight-forward. Putting them into action, however, is much more difficult as humans are conditioned to believe what they see. It is often difficult to believe what we can’t see, but that is what faith is all about. It requires extraordinary courage and strength to shake up our pleasant little world and turn control over to God. Nevertheless, the walk of faith is both an extraordinary blessing and reward. The journey can be exciting and very often life altering. It means we cling to the dreams God has planted in our hearts and go the direction God would have us go even if we can’t see the path or where it leads. We’re told multiple times and in multiple ways in the Bible that thy will (God’s will), not my will be done.
Let’s explore three key disciplines or spiritual practices that will help us along the way. Together, these practices help create space for God within us. They help us overcome resistance to the all-important contemplative listening and active obedience to God. They help free us to live a fulfilled spiritual life.
The Discipline of the Heart
This is perhaps the most essential spiritual discipline. It is the inner prayer of both contemplation and introspection. It is the discipline by which we begin to see and feel God in our hearts. It is careful attention to our God who dwells in the center of our being. It makes us aware that praying is not only listening with our brain through our ears but also listening much more deeply with our hearts.
Prayer from the heart helps us stand in the presence of God with all that we have, all that we are and all that we wish to become. We stand in front of God and expose the good, the bad and the ugly. We expose our fears, anxieties, guilt, shame, greed and anger. We also expose our successes, hopes, aspirations, fantasies and even our dreams. We expose our families, our friends and our enemies. We expose absolutely everything to God. Indeed, everything that makes us who we are. God is the only person we can confidently and comfortably share absolutely everything with, without fear of judgment, rebuke or retribution. He is totally loving and forgiving, especially when we humble ourselves and totally open our hearts to Him.
We can grow our discipline of the heart through frequent and prayerful contemplation in silence with the Lord. That is oftentimes easier said than done. The countless activities of life tend create a noise that preoccupies our thoughts and distracts us from entering into deep, silent, meditative and contemplative prayer. That preoccupation creates a resistance and distraction which often prevents us from seeing the truth of our own lives. That same noise often drowns out God’s answers.
The Discipline of the Word
A second essential discipline is looking to God in the Bible. When we are truly committed to living a spiritual life, we must listen in a very personal and intimate way to the Word of God as set forth in scripture. This essential discipline is one of devotional reading and meditation on a sacred text or passage that, in turn, leads us to prayer.
Prayerful meditation then allows God’s Word to descend from our minds into our hearts. Meditation allows the Word of God to become His word for us. Careful reading, accompanied by both meditation and contemplative prayer is the way by which God’s Word ultimately becomes woven into the very fabric of our being. The discipline of the Word then leads us to obedience. Over time it transforms our personal identity, our actions and our walk of faith.
The Discipline of Community
The third essential discipline is the “Community.” For most of us, the word community in this context means the church - a community of faith.This spiritual practice requires us to be in a relationship with other like-minded believers. Indeed, the Bible tells us in Matthew 18:20 (NIV) that “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." One extraordinarily important element of this spiritual discipline is that a community of believers, the church, keeps us accountable, something we cannot accomplish on our own. You’ve no doubt heard someone say something like, “I don’t need to go to church to be a good or spiritual person. Shamefully, I admit that I too have said that in years past. I could not have been more wrong. I suppose one might be a “good person” as defined narrowly under the laws of man but it is impossible to be a truly committed spiritual person who walks with God without having the discipline of the community. We all need the discipline instilled by a community of believers to encourage us, cheer us on, move us forward, tell us when we stray and help lead us back to our all-important and never-ending walk with God.
Our spiritual life and our walk with God therefore rests on a paradox. We need silence and contemplative prayer to allow God to hear from us and to speak to our heart. At the same time, we need the community of believers to hold us accountable.