A Lenten Journey
Leadership department of Duke Divinity School tells us that for the first time in history, sociologists have identified five separate generations who are attending our churches today. They are all seeking a closer relationship with Jesus Christ but the questions they ask and the methods they use can be vastly different (faithandleadership.com, Haydn Shaw: Churches need to improve their generational IQ, read Feb. 1, 2016). Generations have been influenced in different ways and so may read and interpret scripture through different lenses. As we make our journey through Lent and explore just a few of the historic spiritual disciplines, each will begin their journey from a different place and experience the discipline differently as they explore it. So as we have older people who are living longer wondering how to remain significant and make an impact in their retirement, we have younger people who are wanting something to help them sort through all the new choices that previous generations didn’t have and didn’t have to make.
Richard Foster says, “The Disciplines are for the purpose of realizing a greater good. In and of themselves they are of no value whatever” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 1998 p. 110). A deeper relationship with God is what we seek; the Disciplines are simply the means. Some Disciplines such as Meditation, Prayer and Fasting invite us to look inward and offer paths of personal examination and change. Worship and Celebration are more corporate Disciplines that bring us nearer to one another as we draw closer to God while service and submission prepare us to help God as God makes the world into a better place and are considered more outward.
In a time when you can “Google” anything from almost any place, the desperate need people have is not for more educated people. When instant gratification is offered and promoted from our very own pockets on so called “smart” phones while we listen to what we want when we want it, the need is not for gifted people but for deep people. The Disciplines that in one way or another have been practiced by all the spiritual masters, call us to move beyond surface living into the inner caverns of spiritual life. The Disciplines are intended for ordinary people who work long hours, care for children, do chores around the house and have full and busy lives. They are best explored in the midst of our relationships with our life partners, siblings, friends and neighbors. The only true requirement is a longing for God. Simply knowing the actions of each Discipline does not mean we are letting the Discipline shape us; the inner attitude of the heart is much more important.
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus teaches that we must go beyond legal righteousness. We do not submit to the Discipline but we allow the Discipline to teach us how to further submit to God. We must be careful that we do not turn the Disciplines that were intended to bring the abundance of God into our lives into another set of soul-killing laws. It is easy in our excitement to turn any new discovery or meaningful experience into a new set of laws and limits rather than life-giving freedoms. Practicing the Disciplines allows us to manage ourselves, not others. The world is hungry for genuinely changed people.