Spiritual Disciplines

Dallas Willard Part 14 of 34

In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas’s last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor’s Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]


We are basically at page 33 of your notebook and this is a significant transition. We are moving from the talk of ministry. We will be getting to talk about spiritual disciplines and we will continue to talk about discipleship in that context but I might just ask you to think about whether or not it would be appropriate in your church or your group to have someone who is prepared to teach people how to do the things that Jesus said. Would that be something you could have a staff position on? Someone comes in and says, “My Father is cursing me. Would you teach me how to bless him?” Is that appropriate? Now, Jesus is pretty clear about His intent for us to do what He says, and if you have read the last part of Matthew 7, for example or Luke 6, it looks pretty clear. So, carry that question forward. What would it be like to have someone prepared to teach people to do the things that Jesus said? Could we do that? [2:01]


Well, maybe we can do better with that question as we work forward now looking at disciplines and discipleship. We are looking at them together because disciplines are for disciples and disciples have to have disciplines and so we will be working on the interaction between those. But, let me give you two words and hold them in your focus. One word is habit.

And now, each of you have this little piece by William James and I would like you to try to read that when it is convenient. Don’t read that instead of the other things that you have been asked to read. Don’t read that instead of the Sermon on the Mount but be sure to bring it with you tomorrow and we will want to talk about habit because habit is the key, both to obeying and not obeying. Most people, when they don’t obey Christ are caught in the grip of habit and they don’t know what to do with it. Then loosening up the habit and replacing it with other habits, what do you automatically think when confronted with a situation; whatever it may be. It’s a result of habit. A habit is an acquired disposition to move in a certain direction. It’s an acquired disposition to move in a certain direction, so that governs everything you do practically—driving an automobile is a matter of developing dispositions to act, move, think in a certain way. [4:19]


The other word is kind of a funny word—indirection, and that’s going to be absolutely central now to what we have already spoken of but we haven’t used that word. Indirection is where you get somewhere by going somewhere else. Indirection—so you want to get somewhere by airplanes very often, you get there by going somewhere else. What we want to emphasize now as we go on is that you come to the place of obedience by going somewhere else and that somewhere else is basically, disciplines. And that’s a major part of spiritual growth is learning what to do to get you someplace else.


Now, when you look back at the total human system in the diagram there on page 11 of your notebook, it’s the habits that are in all of these parts that we change. We change the habits in our will and its character, in the mind, in feelings, in our body, in our social setting and in our soul. So, that’s where the work is done is in that system. As we change, for example our ideas about who is blessed, that begins to affect everything in our life and we act differently automatically, so now we’ve had an initial description of discipleship, but now we have to go deeper into that by talking about what actually happens in the course of discipleship.


We now need to talk a little bit about spiritual formation and in relationship to the diagram on page 11, spiritual formation is a matter of going into each of those areas and changing the habits—going into each of those areas and changing the habits. The real issue in spiritual formation is obedience but you don’t go there directly. You go there indirectly; that’s how you mange to do it but it’s important to say that the issue is obedience and not spiritual formation itself. Spiritual formation is not about spiritual formation or spiritual disciplines. It’s about an inward transformation into Christlikeness. [8:02] That works on those areas in the person and curiously enough, most spiritual disciplines are bodily behaviors. They are things we do with our bodies and that’s because of the intimate role that the body plays in who we become.  The spiritual formation is something that happens to everyone and that’s one of the things that we need to emphasize in our churches and in our communities. It isn’t like you are not going to have one. You already had one and what is in those circles in the diagram is there because of the spiritual formation that you have had.  It is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite form or character. Everyone gets a spiritual formation. Hitler got one—whoever else you want to mention had one. Mr. Obama has had a spiritual formation and you just don’t avoid it. It’s really important to understand that because people don’t think of it as being there regardless. They tend to think of it as well, “You know, I might do that or I might not.” No, no, you do it. The only question is, “Which one you are going to do.” And, the message of Christ, the people of Christ come and say, “Now, the spiritual formation you had is responsible for the life you are now living” and if you see a better way in Christ, we are here to help you understand that and we can help you form your spirit in a different way. Obviously, for Christians, spiritual formation basically refers to the spirit driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ Himself. Watch Him go through the various scenes in the gospel and what is manifested is His spiritual formation. When He was dealing with the Pharisees, His spiritual formation came out. When He was hanging on the cross, His spiritual formation came out. That is where indirection takes hold. You work towards different habits and then those habits express themselves in a character that is like Christ’s. [11:24]


So, now I say here on page 33 an indispensable truth, we grow in spiritual life and in ministry by well-directed effort. That looks so obvious but actually, it isn’t. The traditions that come down to us suggest other things that help and they may help a little bit but spiritual life in ministry does not respond to revivals or religious experiences, both of those may be helped. It doesn’t respond just to being taught the truth. It responds to well-directed effort—well-directed effort. So, now that’s where we are going in the coming hours and we have to get if fixed in our minds that grace is not opposed to effort but to earning. Earning is an attitude. Grace is opposed to that. Effort is action; grace is not opposed to that but actually thrives on it. [12:48]


So, now I have over here on page 36 something that is in The Divine Conspiracy and in some other places and that’s what I call here The Golden Triangle of Spiritual Formation and this is the way we put no the Lord Jesus Christ—how we are centered in the mind of Christ and it has various factors and the little article with the funny looking people in it.


I want to work through that but on page 47, for example, that’s an attempt to develop in language what is here presented in an image with the triangle and You will notice that the one side or point of it is the action of the Holy Spirit. And people often say to me, “Why don’t you say more about the Holy Spirit?” Well, there is a lot to be said about the Hoy Sprit and I do deal with it at great lengths but the problem is that people have assumed that all you need to grow is just for the Holy Sprit to come on you in some way but if you just look at how life goes, it doesn’t work that way. Now, the Holy Spirit is essential to the process and there are various respects in which that is spelled out. I give you some verses here—John 3, of course, we have talked about; that’s the birth from above and that is also the spirit, born of the spirit, not of the flesh. Then you have Romans 8 again on the role of the Holy Spirit, “if He through the spirit do put to death the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.”  So, that’s an important part. Then, of course, the action of the Holy Spirit resulting in gifts, in fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, longsuffering and so on. Again, people are apt to take that as saying that all you have to do is just sort of soak it up and out comes the fruit and it doesn’t work that way. We are required to act so, I‘ve put down here at the bottom corners of the triangle, and ordinary events of life and these are what are called temptations in James and in Romans 5. These are the ordinary events of life. This is where the transition takes place—right when you are in trouble, and so in both Romans 5 and in James 1, you have the indication, “Well, rejoice when you are in tribulations.” And it explains why. If you endure temptations as something to be taken in faith, they will result in the transformation of your character. So, that’s a part of what is involved in this process of transformation that we are going to be talking about. [16:20]


And then in the right hand corner of the triangle, disciplines and you have a little passage in Colossians that you are memorizing and it talks about how to transform the self and in that passage, it really does put the weight on you as “the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind”—okay? Meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another—it’s for us to do!! That’s something for us to do. Anyone has something against another even as Christ forgave you, so do you. Above all this, put on agape which is the bond of perfectness and let the peace of God grow in you. See, that’s for you and that’s for me to do. That goes all the way to the end of that passage in verse 17. It talks about communal life—peace together and letting the mind of Christ dwell in you richly—all of that is something for us to do or is the idea that we can do it on our own? No, the idea is that if we can don’t do something, nothing will happen. So, once we get clear about what grace is and how it works, then we are ready to respond and planned disciplines help us go through the process. I don’t want to turn to 2 Peter 1 now; I want to work on that later but that is one of the richest passages, I think, out of the experience of the early church as to how we are to proceed in personal transformation. And as we do that, then what is contained in the body and the mind, including the thoughts and the emotions, will be changed so that we actually become different. [18:28]

Now, this article is one that tries to spell out how that works. It’s on page 45 and following. I start out talking about my own experience and need for growth and then discuss how Jesus is prepared to give us what we need in order to have a new heart and a new life.


So, now, on page 46, I talk about The Golden Triangle and explain what the triangle says. [19:30] I think that will be pretty clear to you. The discipline part begins at the bottom of 46 in the right hand column. It’s the most important thing for us to think about now.  Special activities— many engage in by Jesus Himself such as solitude and study, service and secrecy, fasting and worship, and so these are a part of what it means to follow Jesus is to engage in the activities that He engaged in.  Now, well meaning people in our religious culture can wind up stuck for years, maybe never changed, and hang on there and give faithful profession and do the best they can to act but they never find the secret of disciplines and the theological confusions, traditions, and all kinds of things prevent that from happening. I say in the middle column on page 47, last paragraph there, “The single most obvious trait of those who profess Christ but do not grow into Christlikeness is their refusal to take the reasonable and time tested measures for spiritual growth. I also most never meet anyone in spiritual coldness, perplexity, and distress who is regular in the use of those spiritual exercises that will be obvious to anyone familiar with the contents of the New Testament. [21:24]


In The Spirit of the Disciplines, the first chapter, I talk about the secret of the easy yoke and how the secret of the easy yoke is not just trying to do what Jesus did but do the things that He did when He was not on the spot. And performing on the spot is a disastrous way to think about coming to be able to do what He did. And once we see that there are practices that He practiced and followed, and then begin to follow Him into those practices—silence and solitude and fasting and all of those things that He did. Then we begin to experience the power that He was in touch with, of course as we will probably never come close to matching but it’s just important to understand that we follow Him into His practices and not just into the marvelous performance that He was able to give. So, now when you look into the New Testament, you look at His example—what He practiced and then again, you look at Paul and Paul’s constant references or his frequent references to “Follow me”—the example that I have set and that shows up in numerous places. I list a few of them here on page 34 but there are others, for example in Philippians 4. I don’t site that here but that’s one of the great passages where He simply says, “The things you have seen and heard in me, then do and the God of peace will be with you.” Now if we are going to lead in the process of spiritual formation as ministers of the Kingdom, then we have to be prepared to say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Very often, I think, preachers often find it difficult to say that and they think of their job more as speaking in such a way that their speaking perhaps other things like their praying and so on are supposed to bring about change in their hearer’s lives but again, we are confronted with the empirical fact that very little of that happens, even for great preachers. Now, what will be our response to that? I think that’s where we have to say, “Well, we practice disciplines for living as Christ lived.” So, when he says at the end of Matthew 7, these very stern things about doing what He says, ok, then we can step into that and help people build their house upon the rock of obedience. Jesus says, “I’ll show you who a wise man is. He hears what I say and He does it.” And when the storms of life beat on his life, his life stands. Or again, in Luke 6, “why do you call me Lord, Lord and don’t do the things I say?” Well, that is a key that helps us understand that we should look at His whole life and learn how to live in His practices as well as just try to do the astonishing things that He said and that He did when He was on the spot. On the spot religion doesn’t work. You have to prepare the self to live and you don’t do that just by trying to live in a magnificent way. You find out what enables you to live in a magnificent way and then you do those things and then the living comes out at the end of that. [25:52]


I am on page 34, number 4 there. We think of the spiritual disciplines or disciplines for the spiritual life, first of all, we see that they are utilized through the history of Christ’s people. They are only a systemization and extension not always wisely done—sometimes very destructively done of practices followed by Jesus and His earliest friends in New Testament times. Now, Jesus Himself, of course did not have the problem of overcoming habits of sin but he had to live through His connection with the Father and He makes that very clear. So, He had to take time and make plans for sustaining that connection and in that respect, we are like Him. We go through the process of the new birth but then we have to sustain that by practices that we have chosen to live in and if we are blessed and fortunate, we will be able to look at cases of how people have lived that life depending on our tradition and we live in a historical bubble of evangelical Christianity in the 20th Century, by and large, that is not the normal procedure. It is not the normal procedure. There is a history that goes into this and it has to do very largely with the battle between conservative and liberal Christianity in the 1800 and 1900’s because in that period, Jesus became marked by the liberal side as a teacher and that came to be understood as language that indicated that He was just human and so for the conservative side, they want to stay out of that. Jesus is not teacher; He is just Savior—Divine Savior and they associated teacher with works salvation, often with a social dimension and so the idea of Jesus as teacher disappears. Now, when the teacher disappears, the students disappear. If you are going to have students and you are going to think about the Christian life as a process of being an apprentice or a student, you have got to have the Master who is the one who teaches. So, we have a historical bubble here where the idea of Jesus as being our teacher and therefore of us as being His apprentices is not thought to be good. You have a period where interpretations of the New Testament just say, “Omit the gospels and get on to Romans and Romans will tell you that if you believe the right things, that’s all there is to it. So, you and I come into this picture at a point where that has been practiced widely for a long period of time and it is part of the story of how we wind up with discipleship-less Christianity because the whole idea of following Christ, and I’ve heard well known speakers just say, “No, you are not supposed to follow Christ. You are supposed to believe on Him for the forgiveness of your sins and so no wonder the gospels get dropped or sidelined.  I think point 4 there on 34 is really quite important for us to understand and to understand something about how that got dropped and maybe we want to ask or say more about that in a moment. You do have to think about where we have been. Is that the standard form of Christianity? We are talking basically about the gospel of the great revivalists or evangelists in the 20th Century and they preach a gospel and they say, “This is it and here is how you get it” but it doesn’t include anything about learning to do the things that Jesus said. [31:06]


OK, now then, here’s at point 5 there on 34, here I give you a formulaic statement about discipline. What is a discipline? A discipline is an activity within our power that enables us to accomplish what we cannot do by direct effort. Now, I said that to you I think yesterday or this morning, but I want you to have that in writing just like I want you to have an understanding of what the disciple is. You don’t have to agree with it; it doesn’t cost anything extra if you don’t agree. But, for goodness sakes, work it out; work out something you can live with. What is a discipline and are disciplines something that are necessary for growth? So, you have this statement of Jesus, “Watch and pray that you may avoid temptation. You are willing in spirit.” That is, you have good intentions. “…But your flesh is weak.” Right?  Now, that’s a classical statement of discipline and of course, they didn’t do the discipline and they wound up doing what they said they would not do. They did not avoid temptation. They fell into it and went headlong. “Watch and pray that you may avoid temptation.” Now, sometimes, people can’t do disciplines so you have to, if you are trying to minister to people, you have to decide what they can and cannot do. Disciplines are not the answer to everything. Sometimes you just have to be with people and love them or you have to teach them. You may have to use prayer or prayer instrumentalities for deliverance so there are lots of other things. Disciplines are not everything. Disciplines are a very specific function in the spiritual life and they don’t replace the other things that are needed but if you are able to practice disciplines, then the disciplines will enable you to do things that you think you can’t do—like control your tongue. James says, “Anyone who can control their tongue is a perfect man, able to direct their whole body” and we will have to come back to that and study that. Why is that? Why is it that control of the tongue seems to have such a central place in the spiritual life? Ability to control the tongue is such a deep indicator of where you are with the rest of your life. The tongue is, as he says “an unruly member” and it is very closely connected to what is in your heart so the ability to control your tongue means among other things that you have enough distance on it that you know what it’s about to do before it does it and you know how to stop it. That’s what Peter and his denials did not have. So, that’s the idea now of a discipline and grace does not eliminate the need for disciplines. Actually, grace just potentializes the power of disciplines. [35:09]


The effect of disciplines here at the bottom is to enable people to do what needs to be done when, and as it needs to be done. The discipline puts you in a position where you are aware of what is going on and able to identify to know where its apt to come out and to stop it before it takes affect. James is very analytical about this, as you may recall, from the first chapter of James, he talks about where does sin come from? Well, it comes from your desires and if you don’t do something about those, they will control you and they will bring forth sin and sin when it is finished will bring forth death. So, that’s the genealogy of death. That’s not an inevitable process if you know what’s happening, and above all that means identifying the desires that are present in you. In themselves there is nothing necessarily wrong with them though some of them you don’t want to have but it says they are allowed to progress. Now, discipline breaks that chain. It is discipline that puts you in a position to break that progression. [36:45]


So, now then, lets relate it to disciples at the top of page 35. Now, of course, people who aren’t disciples of Jesus can also exercise disciplines. It is a general human structure and it’s not just related to religion or to Christian religion. It is a general human structure and the reason why we are made in such a way as to select and exercise disciplines is God’s plan for us to be responsible for the kind of person we turn out to be. That’s why they are there. Now, again, it isn’t just religion and you look at many people, for example who want to be rich and want to have money. Well, you know, if you want to be rich, you have some other possibilities like the lottery and so on but you better not count on them. There is a reliable way but you have to be disciplined and if you are disciplined in the way that you deal with money, you can become rich apart from some exterior circumstances that may come on you. You can become a disciple of riches of someone who—Buffet or somebody who makes a lot of money and then you can learn from them and implement the disciplines that are appropriate to that particular activity. Now, God has made us so that we can be like that. Sometimes, it has a tragic dimension—like addictions of various kinds.


Addictions with almost no exception I can think of are the result of making choices and you make choices and then you experience things in the light of the choices and you develop habits and you wind up becoming something you may not have wanted to become. It’s that same process that is at work. You implement activities of various kinds; they shape your character and character then provides you with the kind of life and we live now in a distressing time in American history that the churches have to deal with at some point where there is no reliable instruction as to how to become a good person—how to become the kind of person that does the right thing. There is no longer available to the ordinary person instruction with reference to becoming a good person. Well, they are going to act anyway; they are going to become something and this is one of the places where today, the church needs to stand up and clearly say, “We can tell you how. Here it is” and we may have time to talk a little more about that next week but that fits right in with what we are talking about here under the heading of disciplines. Disciplines are given certain basic abilities; as I say, there are other things that many people need to know. For example, many people need to hear the gospel and they don’t know there are any alternatives to what they are doing. Generally speaking, if you want to become a certain kind of person, then you can do that if you will adopt the appropriate kinds of disciplines. [40:42]


We have already introduced the idea of a disciple and I re-describe it here on page 35—disciples are students of Jesus; they are learning from Him how to live their lives as He would if He were they. How would Jesus be a truck driver, a public school teacher, an elected official or a clergy? Now, there is no one available to help people with that other than you. It’s the preachers and teachers for Christ that have to respond to that need.


I have a warning here on number 9 on page 35, “the specific activities that can be proper spiritual disciplines are very dangerous if not practiced in reliance upon Christ and His grace. They can generate false and disappointing expectations and turn into crushing legalisms” as often, perhaps usually happened with them in their history because they have a very unpromising history in many respects. Today, there are many folks in positions of leadership in the church that won’t touch them because they were presented to them when they were children as legalistic forms of righteousness and often, children were made to suffer and were shamed and emotionally abused around what were called disciplines. Usually, the people involved didn’t have any idea what a discipline was but the word was in the language and it gets used and of course, it is used in the sense of which we say, “I am going to discipline you now” and that usually meant punishment. Many people, when they think of disciplines, they think of punishment—maybe God’s punishment. There is a long tradition in the west of thinking about disciplines as things you suffer from and perhaps build up merit for the church to apply by suffering. The association with disciplines was suffering is a part of the really unhappy aspects of the history of the church. It varies somewhat with cultures but we really have to move away from that understanding. We have to move away from it and we must say, “No, no, disciplines are not necessarily suffering. It is not true that where there in no pain, there is no gain so let’s have some pain.” There is lots of gain without pain and lots of pain without gain. That’s a part of what we have to do in trying to lead and teach with this material is help people, for goodness sakes, to get away from all of these screwy, often wicked things that were done with disciplines. You have to, I guess, if you have time with a group, you look at some of the things that were done and point out what was wrong with them. [44:32]


I underline here right at the end of page 35, always remember a discipline is not a righteous deed. It is not a righteous deed. Now, it may well be that some things that function as disciplines are also righteous deed, but as a discipline, the issue is not righteousness and in life generally as Christians, we want to remember that not everything that we want to avoid is a sin. There are some things that are just stupid. You remember in Hebrews 12, it talks about “laying aside every weight”—a lot of things are just “weights” and “the sin that does so easily beset us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus.” He’s our example—“the author and finisher of our faith who” and then it goes on to quote how he did it. “For the joy that was set before Him endured the cross despising the shame and set down at the right hand of God.” Now, that’s a picture of a process that we also are a part of and there are many things that are not sins: they will just slug your engine, and there is so much that has hurt people by identifying things as sins that aren’t sins. Well, we will have time to talk more about some of those things but just to understand here that the disciplines are, in other capacities, righteous deeds sometimes and were deeds we are commanded to do but as a discipline, an activity that is a discipline is wisdom. It is a good means to a good end and that means among other things like, for example, you decide to fast for two days and you don’t do it, you didn’t sin. You failed but you didn’t sin. Not all failures are sins. Right? Regret is possibility appropriate, but not repentance. In practicing a discipline, you find out why it didn’t work and you fix that. That’s wisdom; that’s putting intelligence and hopefully study of how life goes and of the scripture and you study those and then you learn how to do better next time. OK, now, any questions just on that? I took you through a bunch of concepts here and you may want to go back to some of them or ask other questions but let’s see now if there is something we need to discuss. [47:35]


Q: Can you talk about the general life principle of being responsible to how you turn out?


No, this is a piece of rationalization that is now almost a part of the air we breathe and in fact, it is sanctified in social sciences at your university that says, “Well, you know, it’s all causation.” People can’t do anything different than they do. Of course, no one can live with that but that’s the rationalization and someone who is addicted is apt to say, “Well, you know, I can’t not do it.” Well, you can’t not do it; let’s suppose I have a gun here and I put it to your head and I say, “If you do it, you are dead.” Can you not do it? Suddenly, they find they can. Today a large part of the rationalization for sin is, “I can’t not do it.” Now, we ‘ve got to talk about this “will” later on. There are some pages in your notebook later on because this is really important and there is nothing to say to a person like that except, “Yes, you can if you want to and are willing to find out how.” So, for example, you say, “Well, here is a twelve step program. It’s been tremendously successful for people who are just as addicted as you are.”  “Yeah, but I didn’t think I would do that.” Well, if you are unwilling to take the steps, you are not willing to achieve the end. See there, in effect, Ginger we are trying to give education to these people and that’s what we should be doing as a church and as church people is giving education to our community but now we are up against a different teaching that comes out of the academy basically and this wonderful thing called research and gives these statements about what people can and cannot do and you run into that in the issue of controlling sex with teenagers and people say, “Well, they can’t help it. They are just animals.” Well, then you have thousands of people who do help it. Aren’t they animals too?  There is so much now in the atmosphere that rationalizes doing what is wrong and it just destroys lives. There is nothing more that would be more helpful to a person like that than to find that they can do it. See, that goes right to the center of our little circle diagram—right to the center—the Will, the Spirit and the human being and just says, “ Not there, doesn’t work” and that cuts off any help that can come. See, now the principal that you are referring to is I think extremely important and that is self responsibility and God has created us in such a way that we are to be responsible for the person we become. Now, then you remember I said, the kingdom of Satan, one of the main instruments are ideas and so he comes around with this idea, “You know you can’t do anything about it.”  Well, what’s left once you say that? Well, maybe medication or something of that sort. One reason why there is such a pressure on brain science, as important as it is, is the hope of being able to control things. It would just be wonderful if you could find the spot n the brain that comes alive with addiction and remove it or modify it or something of that sort. See, that would fit the paradigm. What that does is puts you under the control of other people and that’s where Satan wants you. See, the person who says, “No I can do something and they take steps, they cry out to God, they learn what things they can do to help; maybe it is a 12 step program—they do it!” But if you say, “I can’t do anything,” you are dead. [52:10]


Q: On The Golden Triangle of Spiritual Formation, does word and sacrament fit on one of those angles?


Yea, well but you have to access it. See, the reason why I don’t put the word and sacrament, let’s say up at the top with the Spirit is because those are things you have to access somehow. Now, the Spirit may bring the Word but it’s the Spirit that has initiative and that’s what I am thinking about—what’s acting here? And there is a role for the Spirit—what is sometimes called the prevenient work of grace. That Is, God is on the march even before you are awake. He’s setting things up and arranging things. It might be for you to hear the Word and respond to it. But hearing the Word, taking the Word in is a primary discipline for the spiritual life. [53:01]


Q: Did the concept of a disciplined life exist strongly before the 1800’s enlightenment?


Well, in this culture, but I mean, this is as old as recorded history. I mean, you read Plato and Aristotle, they teach you about disciplines. Now, they have ways of thinking about it that I wouldn’t endorse an often, they just call it education but when you especially read what is reported of Socrates by Plato, you see a man that is very close to someone like the apostle Paul minus the understanding of the spiritual realm. Now, Socrates actually thought he had a special God assigned to him so it isn’t like—but, you know, it’s not like saying, “Look at Jesus and look at what He taught and learn from Him how to do these things.” Discipline—same way with Buddhism, the disciplines are understood and practiced so it’s very old but now in our culture, what happens primarily with the Protestant Reformation is disciplines are seen as avenues of works righteousness and also Luther’s unfortunate experience with disciplines and Calvin has a similar problem, though he didn’t hurt himself with them like Luther did. So, that’s the big turn and that’s associated with enlightenment. [55:00]


Enlightenment—one way of looking at the enlightenment is to think of it as an extension of the kind of individualism that comes in religion with Luther. Like it’s just between you and God is the way that people came to read his principle of faith alone and then you look at other aspects of life that emerge in the process of the enlightenment and you see that applying to a lot of different areas. Dakart stands for individualism in knowledge. What you know is entirely up to you for him; you learn how to work the method of knowledge and you don’t depend on anyone else because he is really concerned to get you out of authority and so the recourse to ideas and clear and distinct ideas and I think “therefore I am” is the first case and so on. You see, all of that is individualism. Individualism is the general movement there. Well, the will is your capacity to initiate sequences of events and the existence of things. Now, how are you going to use it? That’s where “indirection” comes in and the will can exercise tremendous influence if it learns how to integrate with the Kingdom of God. And, in that process of integrating that’s where various kinds of disciplines will come in and play a large role. So, memorization—I have some capacity of will and I am sorry I missed Denise’s presentation last night to meet with people but what you learn is there is some things that you can do to help you memorize. It isn’t enough to grit your teeth and try. So, there are some things that if you do, you will in fact memorize and then you find that this is where the Joshua 1:8 comes in again. Everything you do will prosper. Now, people want to go directly to that and you can’t. [57:28]


Q: Is it fair to say that the disciplines are things we do, in living out our lives that make the will more permeable to the power and presence of Christ?


What it does is it lines the rest of the aspects up properly in the circle diagram back on 11. It works the Word of Christ under the administration of the Spirit, comes in and wakes up the will or spirit and that goes out to God in trust which is where it was supposed to be and then, now, I have a life in terms of which I can work with the rest of the components of the person. But, now, after I come alive in my spirit towards God and now I am depending on Him and I am looking to Him and, then I, with Him, find other ways of changing me so that I don’t wind up just saying, “Well you know, I’m an addict.” Yea, well where did that come from? And so, it turns out it has a lot to do with how you manage your mind. Then you manage your mind differently; it affects your emotions differently. Your body starts acting differently and so it’s that kind of affect that radiates throughout the person and the disciplines are precisely designed to instruct you or help you find the ways of making a difference that you can’t do by willpower and that’s one of the main mistakes with reference to spiritual growth is that it’s a matter of willpower and it’s not. Of course, if you hear someone who is an alcoholic say, “I’m never going to drink again;” well, you want to see what else is it that they are going to do?—because if they are just not going to drink again, they are going to drink again. But if, they have others things now that they are going to do to enable that, perhaps by the grace of God and the help of others and so on, then they stand a good chance.


Q: How do we avoid having the spiritual disciplines become a legalistic requirement of the Christian life?


You really have to come at that very carefully and you don’t start with disciplines. You start with the news of life in the Kingdom and so you have a lot of teaching to do before you get to disciplines. Now, you will find that some people can go there without any problem so as a pastor, you want to be aware of the difference in the people under your influence and temper your message to where they are but you know, that’s why I say you want to be very cautious in dealing with this material. If you want to do the Great Commission, okay; you’ve got people on board there. They think you should do it. They think they should do it so you have to work from what they can accept and help them understand how you go on. Depending on their background, the teaching may have to be pretty deep because they may think making disciples means making converts and it doesn’t. So, we have to teach now, in order to teach what it is to make a disciple. We have to teach what the Gospel is and we certainly have an advantage if we are dealing with people who really do respect the Bible and if we can work from that, then we can move them around but we need to teach them. Like one of the things I’ll be saying later and I will say it over and over is, “Don’t make your self miserable with disciplines.” Don’t buy into the idea that if it’s not hurting, it’s not doing any good. Right? That was a principle my father worked on in terms of things like if you had an injury on your hand and you are working, well, just put gasoline on it. That will kill the germs. Well, but it hurts. Well, that means it’s doing some good, right? [1:01:44]


So, we have to re-think that and to lead them into the experiences. I think he works that, he knows that if he can get that over, we won’t do anything. I used to think, for example that the reason that Jesus was tempted at the end of His fast was that He was at His weakest then and now, I don’t think that anymore. I think it was because He was at His strongest; that disciplines made Him strong and clear and I think that’s what disciplines do. For example, we can present—most people will be into something—music or sports—and we say, now see how that works there? It’s kind of painful to run scales but after awhile, wow—it’s a joy. And so that’s the teaching –you sort of have to work at it from all angles to get past this idea that discipline is really not good. [1:03:02]


OK; so, how are you doing with this now in just the understanding of what a discipline is and how it relates to being a disciple?—Lots of problems with how they have been abused.


I wanted to finish today by looking at 37 and just get these—this is what I call the VIM—the VIM as in Vim and Vigor. VIM is actually a Latin term. I understand there is a European cleanser that has the name VIM but it’s a very active sort of thing and the main conditions of spiritual growth, now we are in a position to talk about and the VISION is primary. It’s a vision of the Kingdom of God and your life in it of character goals and empowerment—living a certain way in the Kingdom of God.  That’s the VISION. Now, everything depends upon that. You can’t go without that and that’s why the gospel is so fundamental because it is the Vision. Life now in the Kingdom of God—repent for the Kingdom of the Heavens is at hand. [1:04:42]


Then, on the basis of that if you are clear, you can form an INTENTION and this Intention would be to realize the Vision by becoming a disciple of Jesus. Now, very often people can’t form a powerful Intention because their Vision is not clear. Right? And, of course, now we go back to the three gospels. If those are the visions, then you are going to get a different Intention out of those. So, the mistake often is to work on the Intention as if you could deal with that by itself and you wind up in trying to get people to do things—you manipulate them and work on their—try to get decisions, as we call it.  Like scalps and now, if you have taken care of the Vision then helping people with the Intention is entirely appropriate as long as it is helping them; and they do need help and I think that we should have occasions in our churches where we give invitations, if you wish for people to become disciples. Now, if you have thought out how you would be preaching and teaching, you can easily see that there would be occasions where you could invite people to become disciples and the primary field of discipleship evangelism, I believe is in the American church. Why the American church? Well, because it’s sort of—whether or not it likes it—maybe it does or maybe it doesn’t—it’s kind of taken world wide as a sort of standard. I don’t think it’s a good idea but there it is.  Of course, I heard someone saying that 94% of preachers are in the Untied States in the world. It’s much easier to preach here than it is in a lot of other places but if this is the model, then we need to think about what that means. Now, if you have got a strong decision or Intension based upon a clear Vision of life in the Kingdom of God, then you are ready for MEANS. [1:07:41]


That is where being a disciple translates into a particular way of living that incorporates MEANS—disciplines of various kinds. I say again that there is more to it than disciplines but if you are going to undertake spiritual growth as a disciple of Jesus, you are going to have to settle on practices that actually help you get there. Right? It’s not going to happen automatically. It won’t fall on you one day when you are walking in or out of a church. Now, if the church has got something good in it; that is good. There is nothing wrong with that—much right about it but it’s just that it does not happen passively. Spiritual growth is not a spectator sport. It does not happen passively so then that’s where we have to learn as much as we can of activities that help and that is going to focus on our body, but it is going to affect all the other parts and our problem is so often, we just focus on the Means and they don’t work without the Vision and the Intention.


I have some exercise equipment. (He smiles.) That’s a Means but I don’t have much Intention and still less of a Vision. So, the exercise equipment doesn’t get a lot of practice and it doesn’t seem to bring any benefit to me just sitting there. Now, a person has a heart attack or something and all of a sudden, they have a Vision. They are wearing out their machinery. See, that comes from the Vision and the Vision supports the Intention. Right?  So, now, if we were to have a Vision that said, “Yes, I am going to live in the Kingdom of God in the way the Sermon on the Mount describes, you ought to do that. WE have a Vision. Then, we could make the decision and find the means of doing it. Now, that’s my claim and you certainly again—you want to be very critical about what I am saying to you. I hope you will be. [1:10:34]


Q: What do you suggest to a pastor when he asks about his intention?


Helping Pastors learn about themselves in spiritual direction is a part of that and it’s a complex of things but coming to grips with your real intentions is very difficult because we judge people on their intensions, right?—even the law courts—was the murder premeditated? What’s premeditation got to do with it? The person who murders with premeditation is a worse person than a person who murders out of momentary anger. We believe that and because we understand the importance of intensions, we veil them from ourselves.


Talk show host, Imus, remember him? He got in trouble because he used some racial language and he said, “I’m a good person but I did a bad thing.” And you will hear that over and over now in the public discourse. I did a bad thing but I am a good person. Being a good person is something you hold onto at all costs. To be regarded as worthy is an absolute necessity for mental and physical health and so, we veil our intentions.


The young lady that Ginger mentioned, I mean and most people who take that line of thought is they are not coming to grips with their genuine intentions. Do you intend?—and then they may say, “Yes,” but everything else about them reveals that they don’t intend. In particular, they are not taking steps. If they say they intend but they are not taking steps, they haven’t formed the intention. OK? [1:12:59]


So, we will stop there for today and have a little to say but mainly in the morning, we want to get into particular disciplines and talk about how they work. OK? Happy day!

Listen to all parts in this Spirituality and Ministry 2012 series