Reengaging Spiritual Discipline
A while ago Matt and I developed a draft ‘mission statement’ for this venture: "Vine & Branches exists to help Christians rediscover our tradition, reengage our spiritual disciplines, and ultimately renew our hearts to God, because we believe only those things can help churches, individuals, and families rise to seek God's face again."
I’m going to use my blog posts the next few Mondays to explore what we mean by this provisional statement. Today: reengaging our spiritual disciplines.
I already discussed habits in my last post, but here habits acquire a more immediate and obvious impact for each of us as individuals.
Everyone knows that if you want to be good at something, you have to practice. Do you want to move from couch-potato to marathon runner? Do you want to learn to play the guitar or the oboe or the kazoo or the triangle? Do you want be a better writer or cook or public speaker or rock climber? All these activities are very different, but they have at least one thing in common: if you want to be good at them, if you want to get better at them, if you want to be great at them, then you have to practice.
The same thing holds for things like morality. If you want to be a virtuous person, you should try performing virtuous actions and over time your character should grow in virtue. And when it comes to relationships, if you want to love somebody better, you’ve got to practice. Husbands, wives, parents, friends - I’m talking to you!
So it should come as no surprise that the same basic idea applies to our lives with God. Have you ever complained that your prayer life seems stale? Worship seems dry? Do you want to be more Christlike in your character? Do you want to know God’s love for you more deeply? Do you want to love God better? Do you want to grow in your ability to love your neighbor as yourself?
Do I even need to say it?
That might seem like a sort of boring answer. Shouldn’t there be more mystery? Shouldn’t this be more about what God might do in our hearts and less about what we are doing? What about the Holy Spirit?
I’m so glad you asked all of these wonderful questions, dear reader.
Of course God can move in whatever ways God wants - Karl Barth once suggested that God could speak to us through a dead dog if he wanted to (among other off the wall examples). When God moves in such surprising ways we should certainly pay attention. But that doesn’t change the fact that God typically moves and speaks in other sorts of ways. In fact, most corners of the Christian tradition would even claim that God has covenanted to work on us and in us through these means.
I’m talking about what are commonly referred to as the ‘means of grace.’ God freely and mysteriously moves, and he does so by his Spirit. But you can, if you will, put yourself in places where you have good reason to suspect God in his grace will actually (though possibly slowly and over a long period of time) move in big and powerful ways. So it is a mystery, and it is God doing the action, and it is the Holy Spirit at work. Your practice is secured on God’s end of the equation, but in the moment on your end it might still really feel like just any old practice.
Whether they call them that or not, basically all Christians believe in these ‘means of grace’ in one way or another. Ask an evangelical what to do while you wait for God to show up, and they’ll probably tell you to read Scripture and pray. Ask a progressive Christian the same question, and they might encourage you to perform acts of mercy. Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox Christians might send you to the Eucharist/communion or tell you to fast. And partisans of house church or neo-monastic movements might encourage you to be a part of intentional community.
Here at Vine & Branches, we think they’re all right.
Of course more is better than less here, but there’s also no need for legalism. Each of these practices has the potential to shape us in different ways, and so a part of what we need to cultivate is wisdom. Our hope through this site is to encourage Christians to re-engage with these disciplines, and to do so at a deeper, more robust level than they ever have before.
In the meantime, a few questions for you to ponder:
- Which of the practices listed above do you regularly engage in? Which do you think God might be calling you to make a deeper part of your life?
- Which practice do you think is the least common in American Christianity? What do you think that says about us?
- Which of these practices do you think the church needs the most today? Why do you think that?
- Which of these practices are you most actively trying to ignore or avoid? Why do you think that is?