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Right off the bat, the first chapter of Celebration of Discipline presents me with a challenge I often feel inadequate to meet:
“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”On my best days, I might include myself in the first two categories, but never the third. I’m probably one of those “Platte River” types -- you know, a mile wide and an inch deep. Well, it appears that helping people like me is what Celebration of Discipline is all about -- leading us to get deeper into the real meat of our Christian faith, by learning and faithfully following the Christian Disciplines.
What are the Christian Disciplines? Foster hasn’t listed them in Chapter 1, but if I peek ahead to the upcoming chapter titles, they seem to include such things as prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission (can’t wait for that chapter), service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration.
Foster says many people are put off or intimidated by the Disciplines because they feel they are attainable only by monks who live in monasteries and spend all day praying, or by people who have the wherewithal to grit their teeth and endure boring drudgery for God. Frankly, I have felt this way myself. But Foster says
“Joy is the keynote of all the Disciplines. The purpose of the Disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear. When the inner spirit is liberated from all that weighs it down, it can hardly be described as dull drudgery. Singing, dancing, even shouting characterize the Disciplines of the spiritual life.”Foster reassures me that “beginners are welcome” to learn the Disciplines, and there’s no need to have a huge backlog of theological knowledge. “The primary requirement is a longing after God,” he says, and that fits me to a T.
The book goes on to talk in detail about sin -- how we tend to think of sins as single, discrete acts that can be swatted away one by one as they approach us if our “willpower” is properly engaged. Foster says learning the Disciplines will show us the fallacy of this idea, since sin is “part of the internal structure of our lives”:
“The moment we feel we can succeed and attain victory over sin by the strength of our will alone is the moment we are worshiping the will...‘Will worship’ may produce an outward show of success for a time, but in the cracks and crevices of our lives our deep inner condition will eventually be revealed.”Foster goes on to talk about righteousness, reminding us that Paul stressed it is a gift from God. But Foster warns against taking this to mean that just because we can’t earn righteousness, we are powerless in the equation and can sit back and do nothing -- just get comfortable and let God transform us while we are blissfully going about our earthly duties:
“Happily there is something we can do. We do not need to be hung on the horns of the dilemma of either human works or idleness. God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.”And then Foster warns us not to turn these transforming Disciplines into “another set of soul-killing laws,” but instead urges us to use them to let God transform us into what He wants us to be.
I’m ready for that kind of true transformation, and though I still feel so much a “baby Christian” when it comes to even the most basic Disciplines such as prayer and meditation, I am eagerly looking forward to the next chapters of this book to obtain Foster’s guidance in rectifying that situation.
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