Celebration of Discipline (1)
I’m currently reading the 25th Anniversary edition of “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster (1998).
The aim of the book is to help the modern reader rediscover the classical disciplines of the Christian spiritual life, classical disciplines which Foster describes as “central to experiential Christianity”. Foster claims that our generation has simply forgotten how to “do” the Spiritual Disciplines. This book not only defends and celebrate these disciplines, but also to gives practical advice on how to practice them (only after warning the reader that knowing and going through the mechanics of the Disciplines does not equal practising them).
The first chapter is called “The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation” and serves as an introduction and a defence of the Spiritual Disciplines. Foster uses the phrase “the path of disciplined grace” to describe the Spiritual Disciplines.
It is “grace” because it is free; it is “disciplined” because there is something for us to do.
The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines and their place in the life of a Christian is illustrated by Foster by using this “path” metaphor. The path of the Disciplines is on the narrow ridge between the deadly chasms of moralism on one side and antinomianism on the other. The path does not produce the change but places us where the change can occur. This change is not merely another attempt at outer transformation – changing our behaviour through techniques, tricks or sheer force of will – but true inner transformation, placing ourselves humbly before God who will change us from the inside out.
Christians desire to be changed, to leave sin behind and live the life that Jesus calls us to, but, although we are free from slavery to sin, it is something that every Christian struggles with throughout their life. Our natural response to sin is force, we grieve over it, swear off it (whatever “it” is) and try not to sin again. The trouble with this response is that it fails us time and time again, leaving us either weakened guilt-laden joyless disciples, bitter backsliders or moralistic Pharisees who have acquired enough rules to make us outwardly look good while inside we are full of “all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
My sin surprises me sometimes. I think I’m doing fine but all it takes is tiredness, hunger or a headache and suddenly a careless and insensitive word will slip out. Jesus will tell you that the problem is not my mouth, but my heart (Mark 7:21). The real problem is not outer behaviour, but the inner attitude of the heart and it is this that inner attitude that needs to be transformed. A frontal assault on sinful behaviour will not do, true transformation requires, as Foster says, “an inside job”.
“When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God; it is a grace that is given”
The Spiritual Disciplines provide ways for us to approach Go, to place ourselves humbly before him and allow him to transform us from the inside out.
The first chapter had me eager to read on and learn the disciplines.
The body of the book is divided into three parts:
- The Inward Disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting and Study
- The Outward Disciplines: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission and Service
- The Corporate Disciplines: Confession, Worship, Guidance and Celebration